When the Knights’ entered the football field with one second left against Temple, they were two and a half quarters deep into an unfolding disaster. The final merciful tick of the clock, a fingers-crossed running of the bulls toward a squib kick designed to prevent a touchdown return, played out with half the audience already streaming for the gates, desperate to leave the loss behind in their minds.
The scoreboard had once read 25-7. Less than three minutes had elapsed in the second quarter, and the Knights, in proud new jerseys amid the spectacle of homecoming, were destroying Temple.
By the time the Knights’ fate had bore the full denouement of a karmic implosion, the scoreboard read 26-25. The Knights hadn’t somehow found a way to score a single point on an as-yet-unheard-of play. The Owls had merely scored 19 in a row to upend the score.
Now the Knights, dropped to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in conference play, are forced to try to upend themselves on the road, bound for UConn to face the team that unilaterally declared a rivalry last season, then stomped UCF in the Bright House.
First, the Knights needed to perform an autopsy on the most disappointing loss of Frost’s short tenure with the team.
The Knights came out slashing and defending in the early parts of the game, taking Temple by surprise with a 55-yard TD pass from McKenzie Milton to Tre’Quan Smith only 71 seconds into the game to electrify the crowd.
Temple struck back four minutes later, but it came off as more of a parry than a return assault. The Knights would quickly amass three more scores, on a 42-yard Matthew Wright field goal then a 16-yard lob into the end zone received by Adrian Killins, followed by a devastating 63-yard QB scamper with Milton seemingly pursued hopelessly by the entirety of Temple’s defense.
Then it all fell apart.
“Drives started getting stagnant,” Milton said. “We shot ourselves in the foot with the dumb penalties.”
Despite keeping up their tempo for most of the game, with only three drives consuming more than 2 minutes, the Knights went from scoring on nearly every drive to giving up the ball every time. A 48-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, then Milton, on a promising drive, was intercepted on the UCF 35-yard line.
“We had so many chances to put the game away and we couldn’t,” Frost said.
Meanwhile, Temple proved that 25-7 isn’t very far away when they scored a late TD in the second quarter to start swinging the momentum, then took the ball in the second half kickoff and turned it into clock-killing 7:21 drive that ended in a field goal. Despite the Knights’ defense’s valiant efforts, the Owls put together just enough scores outside of the end zone in the second half to get close. The Knights’ last big stop crushed Temple with a fumble on the UCF 29-yard line. It was another chance to put it away.
“When they’ve got to go 70 yards in 30 seconds, you only have to make one play,” Frost said.
Gifted the ball by their defense, all the Knights had to do was get a single first down to kill the clock for the win. Instead, they handed the ball off to Dontravious Wilson three times and didn’t gain a single yard, forcing them to punt on what would be their last drive.
A demoralized UCF defense, returning to the field 69 seconds after handing their offense a near-certain win, was forced into another game-winning situation. The punt had pinned Temple back to their own 30-yard line. They needed to traverse 70-yards of football field in 32 seconds.
What happened next was a nightmarish blur for Knights fans, as Temple QB Phillip Walker rifled off a 20-yard pass to Ventell Bryant to immediately get to the 50-yard line. Then he fired another one to Bryant for 16 yards, as he stepped out of bounds to stop the clock. Then another pass to Bryant for 26 yards put them within a short run to the end zone. By the time the ball was snapped for the fourth play of Temple’s drive, inevitability had already set in. Walker hit Keith Kirkwood for an easy 8-yard reception for the win with one second left.
The squib kick to the Knights left them with nowhere to go but down.
“We’ve gotta do a better job finishing,” Frost said.
Later he added, “We’ve got to coach them better.”
The Knights’ turnaround from the disastrous 2015 season is still progressing, he said. They’ve already had their milestones since that 0-12 end. First win. First winning streak. First 500-yard game. First American Athletic Conference victory since 2014.
Saturday at noon, when they walk onto the field of their self-dubbed rival, the UConn Huskies, they’ll be looking for their second. They’ll be trying to do what the Owls did to them, ruining a homecoming. Though he’s done little to mention the so-called “Civil ConFLiCT,” Frost was optimistic about the road ahead.
“It’s going to show the character of this team how we respond,” he said.
The Huskies, who have not yet had a bye week, are 3-4 on the season, and 1-3 in the AAC.
Their most recent loss, a 42-27 heartbreaker on the road against resurgent, undefeated conference rival USF (6-0, 3-0), came only after the Huskies allowed the Bulls to score three touchdowns in the final quarter. The Huskies allowed 529 yards in the game and gained 378.
The Huskies and Knights will kick off at noon Saturday, broadcast on ESPNews and 96.9 The Game.
Winter Park football
The Wildcats (5-2, 3-0) responded to a late September loss to Wekiva with two straight wins, including a 50-13 blasting of Orlando University last Thursday.
Winter Park travels to Boone for a 7 p.m. Friday kickoff this week. The Braves are 3-4 overall and 1-1 in the district after falling 30-20 to Timber Creek Oct. 13. That’s the same Timber Creek team Winter Park outlasted with a 7-0 win on an interception return for a touchdown.
In what may have been their best shot at a win all season, the Eagles lost 34-0 against Lake Minneola Oct. 13. They fell to 0-7 overall with the loss. They face East Ridge (4-3, 2-2) at 7 p.m. this Friday.