ORLANDO — Those deep passes of last year stuck in UCF's memory like daggers.
The Knights spent every moment of their 31-24 overtime loss Saturday to No. 17 USF trying to rip them out.
For four quarters and an overtime, the Knights (1-1) fought in front of 46,805 in Bright House Networks Stadium, never forgetting the 52-point drubbing USF (2-0) handed them last season. They wanted to show the Bulls that these teams could have a rivalry.
The anger from that humiliating defeat came pouring out in every pass breakup and every hit. And while Saturday's defensive effort likely will be forgotten in the overtime loss, the UCF secondary gave a young, sputtering offense a chance to win the game.
"We had too many personal fouls," UCF receiver Rocky Ross said. "We should have won. We were the better team."
Perhaps no one in the secondary carried the burden greater than senior cornerback Joe Burnett. He energized the Knights all night beginning with a 91-yard kickoff return in the first quarter to tie the score at 7.
With UCF trailing 17-10 in the third quarter, Burnett zipped around a corner, dived and blocked a 46-yard field goal with his outstretched right hand.
When the Knights made it 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, Burnett electrified the crowd with a punt return to set up the tying score.
"Joe Burnett with the punt returns and the kick returns is just an outstanding player," coach George O'Leary said. "There were a lot of good football players on this field tonight."
An upset appeared out of reach for UCF once Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe hit receiver Cedric Hill for the second of their two touchdown passes, both in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie.
But Knights quarterback Michael Greco answered with two touchdown passes of his own in 1:46 in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 24 with 1:40 left.
Many will talk about Grothe's great night. He completed 23-of-40 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
But he had two interceptions. And the UCF secondary helped its front four sack Grothe three times with good downfield coverage. It also forced Grothe to run 20 times for game-high 54 yards.
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 580-5315.