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Knights fall 10 yards short

North Carolina State left the Knights 21 points behind in the first half, but a late change to freshman QB Jeff Godfrey led to a massive rally that ended one score short.

North Carolina State left the Knights 21 points behind in the first half, but a late change to freshman QB Jeff Godfrey led to a massive rally that ended one score short.

Isaac Babcock

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A burgeoning late comeback came crashing down 10 yards short of a miracle Saturday night, as the Knights fell 28-21 to North Carolina State. Some late heroics by freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey engineered a near-victory after the Knights were down three touchdowns for much of the game.

“Godfrey went out there and did a heck of a job,” Coach George O’Leary said.

The Knights had let an anticipated three-point victory turn into a 21-0 blowout — with the University of Central Florida on the unlikely losing end — near halftime, before finally showing some spark.

All of that first-half spark came from UCF’s special teams, which took a kickoff return and turned it into a wild 93-yard scamper from Quincy McDuffie, and the ensuing extra point, to make the score 21-7.

That was all the offense the Knights could muster in the first half, after a dismal series of downs saw the Knights use punter Blake Clingan more times in the first seven minutes than in their entire game against South Dakota the week before. Until midway through the fourth quarter, Clingan’s kicking leg had taken the ball more yards than the entire UCF offense combined.

And Clingan’s leg may have been used even more had the Knights not turned the ball over five times on three interceptions and two fumbles, all but one of them coming under the watch of starting quarterback Rob Calabrese. The play caller who had decimated the Coyotes in the first week of the season, looked powerless against the Wolfpack’s defense this time around, particularly on rushing plays.

By halftime, the Knights had only 5 net yards on the ground. Their third leading rusher in the first half, Calabrese, had negative 4 yards, as he was chased out of the pocket repeatedly thanks to weak protection from his offensive line.

Calabrese did manage to amass 103 yards in the air by halftime, but none of those yards got the Knights within the red zone.

In the second half, Calabrese would only pick up another three yards in the air. His final pass would result in a 43-yard interception return by the Wolfpack to bring the score to 28-7 with less than six minutes left in the third quarter.

That’s when O’Leary tapped freshman QB Jeff Godfrey to try to salvage the game. And salvage he did, immediately going on a rampage that took the Knights 55 yards downfield for their first touchdown of the game. Seventeen of those yards came from Godfrey’s own feet, with the decisive final 6 yards carrying him into the end zone as cheers exploded from the stands. The remaining two thirds of the original crowd were witnessing one of the biggest comebacks since the team joined the Conference USA.

On the next drive, the Knights defense stuffed the Wolfpack after just one first down, getting the ball back in Godfrey’s hands and setting up another huge drive. After moving back 5 yards on a false start on the first play, Godfrey would lead the Knights 80 yards in just under four minutes, capping off the drive with a wild run into the end zone to bring the score to 28-21.

Four downs and a botched N.C. State punt later, the Knights were staring down half a field with only 2:47 left. In less than 50 seconds, Godfrey brought the Knights 40 yards downfield, tossing a bullet to McDuffie at the 10 yard line, but as McDuffie spun around to make a dash to the end zone, the ball was knocked out of his hands, and recovered by the Wolfpack, ending the Knights’ comeback in a split second.

“I thought we beat ourselves out there,” O’Leary said, though he was optimistic about the comeback. “I give our kids credit. They came back.”

At 7 p.m. Saturday night, the Knights kick off in Buffalo against the Bulls. It’ll be televised on Bright House Sports Network.