A highlight reel catch by redshirt freshman Tre’Quan Smith was the highpoint for UCF Thursday night, and Smith may be the highpoint for the Knights’ receiving core for years to come.
The trials and tribulations of the Knights’ season culminated in one last loss, 44-3, but this one may have hurt more than the rest as it was delivered by rival USF.
It hurts even more for seniors Thomas Niles, Joseph Puopolo, Cedric Thompson, Domenic Spencer, Brendin Straubel and Tarik Cook, who will never have the chance to play for UCF again.
“Knowing that I’ll never put on a UCF jersey again or go out with my UCF brothers again on the field of battle is not something I can really describe,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of feelings and emotions because football is really my life.
“Taking that last step off the field kind of crushed me a little bit.”
The Knights (0-12, 0-8 American Athletic Conference) found a way to put points on the board in the opening drive, stringing together 61 yards before settling for a 29-yard field goal. But they couldn’t find a way for the remainder of the game, and USF (8-4, 6-2 AAC) scored 44 unanswered points. It is just the third time in program history the Knights have finished the season without a win (1982, 2004, 2015).
“I told them in the locker room, [I was] disappointed we couldn’t send those guys [seniors] out with one final win to go with the record they had,” interim head coach Danny Barrett said. “Probably more disappointed in that than anything else.”
Justin Holman completed 10 of 26 passes for 116 yards and two interceptions. Smith caught seven of those passes for 102 yards.
In eight games this season, Holman went 127-for-250 with 1,379 yards, seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In 12 games, Smith led all Knights receivers with 52 receptions, 724 yards and four touchdowns.
“[Smith] started off the game with a great catch, fourth down made a great catch. Feel as though he’s probably going to be the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year in this conference,” Barrett said. “Hopefully he’s able to win it because he’s shown that he can play football at this level.”
USF scored on eight out of 10 drives in the game, including the first, which was a 12-play, 75-yard drive. It was made possible by a conversion on fourth and eight from the UCF 32-yard line.
The Knights went for it on fourth down three times, but converted just once. They struggled on third down as well, converting just two of 11.
“I’m just disappointed we couldn’t execute on third down on both sides of the football,” Barrett said.
Bulls’ quarterback Quinton Flowers manhandled the Knights on 14-for-21 passing, throwing for 176 yards and three touchdowns while running 18 times for 87 yards. Their rushing game found holes in UCF’s defense and carried the ball for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
USF’s first rushing touchdown was set up by Holman’s costly interception. It was a 3-yard run that capped a 49-yard drive. The Knights allowed points on both turnover on downs and both interceptions.
“This has been my life for the last five years. All I’ve known is UCF, UCF football, and to know I was going to put on that jersey and those pads for the last time is heartbreaking,” Puopolo said. “You don’t think that day will come. It finally has.”
After the hiring of Danny White as UCF’s new director of athletics, the Knights will turn their full attention to search for a new head football coach during the offseason.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.