The bell rang out loudly through Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Dec. 31, and for once it wasn’t a tolling curse for the UCF Knights football team.
As senior linebacker, Bruce Miller said it was finally a sound he wanted to hear. The Knights had just won their first bowl game in school history, beating Georgia 10-6, and in doing so, they avenged a string of curses for the long-growing but always up-and-coming team. And they made good on a win at the Liberty Bowl after losing there three years prior.
Now, as coach George O’Leary announced after the game, they’ve arrived.
“This game today could have gone either way,” O’Leary said to a wall of national television cameras after the game. “I’m very happy for [the team] and obviously for our whole program.”
The Knights broke several streaks or curses in on stroke of the clock, ending a bowl game drought in their fourth attempt, finally winning a game as a ranked team after never defeating a ranked team in more than 20 tries, and winning 11 games for the first time in program history. Until beating Georgia, the Knights had never defeated an SEC opponent on the gridiron.
The Knights owed Miller quite a bit of gratitude, armored in black for his final game. He led a UCF defense that did the improbable and statistically unfathomable: stop the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs had averaged more than 39 points per game this season with star wide receiver A.J. Green on the field. The Knights held them to just two field goals, never allowing them into the end zone.
During the defensive masterpiece, Miller would score 1.5 sacks, tackle 8 players and send two back for a total of 14 negative yards. Alongside him, Kemal Ishmael picked up 11 tackles of his own, while Justin Boddie grabbed 10, including three pass breakups.
It was a defensive struggle on both ends of the field. In the game half of the total 22 drives would end in punts. Four more would end by interception — three of them occurring on consecutive drives.
At a crucial point in the game, offense collided with defense as UCF freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, having stormed 53 yards down field, threw an interception into the hands of Georgia’s Brandon Boykin in the end zone. Godfrey then had to make his own tackle to prevent Boykin from turning a would-be UCF touchdown into a Georgia touchdown.
In the end, the Knights’ big moment would come in the final play of the game, as the Bulldogs’ Aaron Murray, on fourth down and down by 4 points while staring at a heavily contested end zone, threw a hail Mary pass, only to see it batted down by UCF’s Kemal Ishmael. The crowd erupted in jubilation as the clock struck zero and the Knights, for the first time ever, hoisted a bowl game trophy.