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USF runs out of time, falls short in wild finish at UCF

Timmy McClain takes the Bulls from the USF 11-yard line to the red zone, but USF can’t finish off its conference rival.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain (9) is sacked by UCF defensive lineman Tre'mon Morris-Brash (33) to end the War on I-4 Friday in Orlando. The Knights were credited with five sacks.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain (9) is sacked by UCF defensive lineman Tre'mon Morris-Brash (33) to end the War on I-4 Friday in Orlando. The Knights were credited with five sacks. [ WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Orlando Sentinel via Associated Press ]
Published Nov. 27, 2021

ORLANDO — Friday’s annual USF-UCF rivalry game was filled with drama, right down to the final moments of the Knights’ 17-13 victory.

With 12 seconds remaining — after a wild final drive of 11 plays and 80 yards — USF had the ball at the UCF 3-yard line with no timeouts.

Beneath a thunderous roar of jumping, screaming Knights’ fans in the Bounce House, true freshman quarterback Timmy McClain took the snap and scrambled left. Defenders tripped him and his knee touched down at the 8-yard line. McClain threw the ball in desperation and was intercepted.

The refs, however, ruled McClain was sacked, then after explaining the ruling to USF coach Jeff Scott, announced through the booming loudspeakers that time expired during the play and the game was over.

For USF it was a painful ending to the first two challenging years for Scott and the Bulls, who finished 2-10 and 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference.

“We talked this week about the opportunity for a special finish and we just came up one play short,” Scott said. “It hurts a lot because our guys absolutely played their guts out as they have done for the majority of the year. I am so proud of the way our guys played today, especially after (a sobering 45-14 defeat at Tulane last week).”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Bulls defense, which came in ranked 125th out of 130 Division I-A teams, allowing 489.3 yards a game. USF also ranked 120th in points allowed with an average of 36.3 a game.

After the Bulls gave up 501 yards to Tulane, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer was fired. Special teams coach Daniel Da Prato and linebackers coach Ernie Sims served this week as co-interim defensive coordinators.

The switch seemed to have a positive effect because the Bulls not only limited UCF to 17 points (the Knights had been averaging 36.3), but they held them to 285 total yards.

USF safety Christian Williams (4) tackles UCF running back Mark-Antony Richards (6) during Friday's game.
USF safety Christian Williams (4) tackles UCF running back Mark-Antony Richards (6) during Friday's game. [ CHASITY MAYNARD | Orlando Sentinel via Associated Press ]

“I couldn’t be more proud of our defense because in a short week after the coaching switch we installed some different blitzes and looks and kept (UCF) off balance,” said Scott, who will begin an immediate search for a permanent defensive coordinator. “It ended up being the best defensive performance we had all year.”

In the beginning it looked like UCF  (8-4, 5-3) might again roll up huge numbers as it gained 120 yards on its first two drives.

“But it was right then our defense settled in,” Scott said. “We got into a rhythm.”

In their next six drives, the Knights gained only 65 yards and two first downs.

USF, which trailed 14-7 at the half, cut the gap to 14-13 in the third quarter on two Spencer Shrader field goals of 41 and 36 yards.

UCF extended its lead with a 32-yard Daniel Obarski field goal with 5:42 remaining — setting up the drama for the final minutes, particularly the Bulls’ last drive, which started at their own 11-yard line with 2:43 on the clock.

In the final 11 plays, McClain, as he has been all year, was at times electrifying — scrambling on two carries for 23 yards and completing a 35-yard pass to Xavier Weaver and another 30-yarder to back Jaren Mangham — and at times questionable. McClain also was sacked three times for losses of 6, 8 and 14 yards on the drive and threw an interception that was nullified on an offsides penalty.

“This is a game where Timmy is going to learn a lot,” Scott said. “You have to be in these types of situations to learn how to handle them. I can guarantee you he is going to get better from this experience.”

McClain finished 18-of-29 for 222 yards. He was sacked six times often while scrambling to extend plays. Mangham led the Bulls on the ground with 21 carries for 93 yards.

UCF extended its win streak in the “War on I-4″ to five games and for an overall 7-6 lead in the rivalry.

“It does hurt a lot because these guys have put so much effort into everything,” Scott said. “This team has been through more than any team I’ve ever coached. But we remain united and we know we are going to get there. The outside world doesn’t see it. But it’s happening. We’re making it happen.”

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