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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Valiant Bulls take UCF on scary ride

ORLANDO — Maybe Central Florida should drop South Florida from its schedule.

Just when UCF, ranked 17th in the country, 9-1, poised for a BCS berth, thought it was time for righteous payback …

Willie Taggart and USF forgot, for most of Friday night, that they were 27-point underdogs, 2-8 and heading for what could be the first 10-loss season in program history.

They tried to ruin the big party in the Orlando hinterlands, at UCF’s on-campus stadium, the one not far from a Ferris wheel handing out rides before the game.

The Bulls tried to make this their bowl game, to pull a decidedly losing season from the AAC ashes.

USF dropped UCF after going 4-0 against them from 2005-08.

That never should have happened. It was and is a stain.

But Friday was looking like a shining Bulls moment. This was their bowl game. They nearly pulled it off.

Only Central Florida, in mid-Disney season, awoke and found more late fairy dust, 52 yards, quarterback Blake Bortles to receiver Breshad Perriman, over USF safety Lamar Robbins, for the winning TD and a 23-20 escape.

USF freshman quarterback Mike White, who had stepped up and played well at times and led the Bulls on two second-half touchdown drives, had the Bulls driving again, for the win, when he threw an interception on third down in UCF territory.

The Bulls had come to dropping a mind-bender on the Knights with extraordinary defense (five takeaways) and seemingly enough offense, which hardly ever happens. Imagine if they’d pulled it off.

Why, there would be UCF fans wandering about their Florida campus even now, or along I-4.

Maybe it was like Taggart said a few weeks back:

“We don’t want to be the first ones to lose to those guys.”

They did, but they played with some pride.

At least the rivalry is back.

And maybe Taggart can build off this with his team, this game and other close calls in 2013.

“We set the foundation for the future of this football program,” he said.

Still, they let this slip away — and that could show next week in the cold at Rutgers, in the season finale.

This was the Bulls’ all-in game. They had this game where they wanted it.

They were up 20-16 in the fourth quarter, powered by two second-half touchdowns from an offense that had scored only nine TDs in its first 10 games.

A 13-yard touchdown from receiver Chris Dunkley on a reverse and a short TD run by Marcus Shaw gave USF a 20-16 lead.

Then a big USF pass rush pressured Bortles and USF freshman safety Nate Godwin made the interception deep in UCF territory with under seven minutes left. Only the Bulls couldn’t manage a first down, and the usually dead-on kicker Marvin Kloss missed a 51-yard field goal try.

It was there for the taking.

USF couldn’t quite grab it.

Again, at least the rivalry is back.

Even when UCF couldn’t play with USF, and USF acted as if UCF was something to wipe off its shoe, this game was worth playing.

Judging by Friday, it still is, even with the shoe on the other foot.

This wasn’t what UCF expected.

It was supposed to be the Knights’ night all the way.

This was going to be a game that UCF fans could rub in USF fans’ faces.

Think about it: After all those years of USF beating its head against the BCS wall, UCF seemed ready to gain a BCS berth in its first attempt.

A UCF BCS bid would be quite the thing for Knights coach George O’Leary to put on his resume (Actually, I think O’Leary wrote it in there three years ago.).

But Taggart and his team threw down.

Maybe it was like the USF coach said a few weeks back:

“We don’t want to be the first ones to lose to those guys.”

They didn’t win, and their talent is hit and miss, but at least they played proud. They nearly ruined the carnival, Ferris wheel and all, and brought UCF to its knees.

They just didn’t have quite enough tickets for that ride.

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