UCF Earns Respect by defeating Auburn 34-27 in the Chic-fil-a Peach Bowl
Scott Frost had to finish what he started; a better opportunity as the new Nebraska Head Coach did not sway his commitment to his current players. He recruited them to play at UCF and couldn’t abandon them. That is not the current trend where coaches take new jobs and their loyalty changes immediately. In one of the classiest acts in sports, he completed the Cinderella Season. Two years ago the program was defeated 0-12, this season they are undefeated 13-0. Respect must be granted to the American Athletic Conference Champions. They stood toe to toe with the bully Auburn Tigers, a Power Five Representative from perhaps the most acclaimed conference in all of football the SEC. After withstanding their blows for three quarters, they punched them back squarely on the nose by defeating them 34-27 to win the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
My heart goes out to Auburn a team that beat two number one teams Georgia and Alabama then lost the rematch to Georgia in the SEC Championship game. No path could have been more difficult. Then they had to play the nations only undefeated team the University of Central Florida Knights. I must admit as I usually do I try to formulate a game story, in no way did it go in the direction of UCF upsetting the SEC Eastern Division Champions. Then you have to play the game to get the real story.
The UCF Defense sacked QB Jarrett Stidham six times and forced him to throw two key interceptions. He finished the game with 331 yards passing completing 28-43 attempts. He will be back and his day will come. He is a star in the making today he had to take his bumps and bruises.
The magic of RB Kerryon Johnson was put on the shelf and locked away. He finished the game with 71 rushing yards on 22 carries but if you have seen this Doak Walker finalist play he has not been the same since he injured his shoulder in the Iron Bowl. Simply put he is one of the best running back in the country and should be mentioned as a potential Heisman Trophy winner.
Not today though give credit where credit is due the UCF Defense was phenomenal they played lights out. Shaquem Griffin played like the best one of the best defenders in the country contributing 12 tackles 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He set the tone and delivered the prize.
It was a tale of two halves for Auburn, Jekyll and Hyde made an appearance the good the bad and the ugly of the Auburn Tigers were on display. It was just like their season habits so good at times and so bad at others. They had a magic button able to turn it on and turn it off sometimes you can be too good for your own good.
UCF started with impact Jamiyous Pittman sacked Jarrett Stidham on Auburn’s first play from scrimmage. That play set the tone of the game. They had violent intentions early forcing a quick three-n-out. Auburn came up with the games first big play a fumble recovery on a bad snap. A 26-yard pass to Nate Craig-Meyers put them in scoring position. The Knights got the best of a bad situation by limiting the Tigers to a field goal. The score was true to form as they have scored first in 11-13 games this year. Overall the first quarter was a bit rough for both teams.
The nations highest scoring team UCF 49.4 per game got on the board with a 33-yard field goal. They were given a short field after Daniel Carlson missed a 53-yard field goal attempt. You may ask why such a long field goal? Carlson is a lethal weapon the first-ever three time Lou Groza Award finalist is the career leader in scoring in SEC history.
Fumble-i-tus bit Jarrett Stidham on the same side of the fifty-yard line as did the SEC Championship game as he coughed up the ball to Tre Neal for a 36-yard fumble. Then Mckenzie Milton broke up the middle and leaped into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown to take the lead 10-3. Chants of UCF filled the stadium. The AAC was on top of the SEC. Shortly after, Auburn found themselves needing a flotation device facing fourth down and twenty-eight from their nine-yard line. UCF got the ball with a short field, but Auburn’s defense eliminated any threats.
Again Auburn found themselves in a hole facing fourth down and eighteen yards after a sack by Tony Guerad and friends. Carlson delivered on a 46-yard field goal after a 15 play 62-yard drive stalled.
UCF hit turbo mode going 42 yards in thirty-eight seconds to end the half with a 45-yard field goal by Mathew Wright as the clock expired for intermission. The AAC won the first half 13-6. I didn’t know whether to be stunned or pleasantly surprise, UCF was showing they belonged.
Auburn came out with exactly what they needed a 72-yard kickoff return by Antwan Collier. The next play Jarrett Stidham found Will Hasting for a 26-yard touchdown pass to tie the score 13-13. Head Coach Gus Malzhan must have found the chosen words.
They continued with big plays Stidham connected with Darius Slayton for 29 yards, then 16 yards to Chandler Cox Kerryon Johnson scored on a 4-yard blast. The offensive juggernaut was in full effect. The new Auburn Tigers had the momentum and the lead 20-13. The drive was 10 plays covering 82 yards and lasted 3:37.
On the kick off they buried the returner at the 10-yard line, Tiger Nation was on the prowl. UCF didn’t go away finding some big plays, but they also missed opportunities a wide-open pass that went right between their hands. However, they continued to fight. This team is good there was no panic they just steadied the Benz when the road got a little rocky. Before you knew it, they scored on 7 play 65-yard drive on a 12-yard pass to Otis Anderson to tie the score 20-20.
A dose of anxiety hit the Tigers in a defensive offside penalty by Derrick Brown trying to get an edge to prevent 8 play 59-yard drive.
QB Mckenzie Milton went into his bag of tricks eluding defenders before he zipped the ball across his body to Dredrick Snelson for the 8-yard touchdown pass to take the lead back 27-20 with 11:36 remaining. The 19th sellout crowd of 71,109 were on their feet. Auburn reverted to first-half play looking wounded after taking a right-handed jab. UCF’s defense forced a three-n-out.
Mckenzie Milton squirted through a gaping hole to pick up 23 yards. Then he threw a dime TreQuan Smith for 34 yards right over the outstretched arms of the defender to put his team in scoring position at the 15-yard line they were knocking on the door of an upset. The drive stalled on a blocked 25-yard field goal attempt.
The Knights’ Defense got a little antsy jumped offside and made contact gifting 5 yards, then C Burkett stepped in front of a Stidham errant pass and completed the football version of the hat trick a pick-six returning the intercepted pass for a 45-yard touchdown to extend their lead 34-20.
The Auburn mascot is a tiger and tigers don’t turn back easily with 5:51 remaining they put together a 6 play 79-yard scoring drive that lasted on 1:49, Eli Stove took it in from seven yards out to set the stage for a thrilling ending 34-27.
Auburn got the ball back with 2:18 remaining in the game. They drove down to the 21-yard line to get there Stidham had to escape the pocket to preserve his life. A couple of times he was smacked but his will to win picked him up from the turf. They put together an impressive 11 play 58-yard drive before he threw his last interception to Antwan Collier who sealed the deal and brought respect to the UCF program and the American Athletic Conference its second Chic-fil-a Peach Bowl Championship Trophy.