It was a game many people thought wouldn’t be close. UCF came into Annapolis as the nation’s top scoring offense, averaging almost 51 points per game. But Ken Niumatalolo and his Midshipmen showed the UCF Knights and the rest of the league that wins don’t come easy in Annapolis.
“I have so much admiration for Navy, this place, their football players and their staff,” said UCF head coach Scott Frost. “We knew we were in for a battle. We’re glad and lucky to get out of here with a win.”
Abey went down early in the second half after being tackled by UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin and slamming the back of his head against the turf. He was taken out of the game, assumedly for concussion protocol procedures, and remains questionable going into Navy’s Nov. 2nd game against Temple.
“I don’t know at this point. I’ll see the trainers when I go back (to the locker room). Hopefully, he’ll be okay,” Niumatalolo said of Abey. “I saw him talking to people afterward, and he was coherent. When those kinds of things happen, we just wait until the medical staff gives their analysis then go from there.”
Junior QB Garret Lewis would replace Abey. He went 3-9 passing for 56 yards and ran for 39 yards on 11 carries, but ultimately cost the Mids their chance at the upset when he made a poor decision to pitch the ball to Darryl Bonner resulting in a fumble that led to the final UCF score of the game.
“That was my fault,” said Lewis on the play.
UCF started the game exactly how they expected to in the first half, using ten plays to go 64 yards for an opening drive touchdown. But after that, Navy’s defense, coupled with five first-half UCF penalties, forced UCF to punt twice and turn the ball over on downs in the red zone.
“I was very, very pleased with the defense. They (UCF) are the best scoring team in the country. They have athletes all over the place,” Said Niumatalolo.
Zach Abey struggled early in the first half but eventually led the Mids to the end zone in the second quarter using 12 plays to go 92 yards. The drive, and the game, finally opened up for Abey when he hit WR Tyler Carmona for a 40-yard pickup on 3 and 8, and put Navy on the board with a six-yard rush for a touchdown.
Navy’s 12-play, 92-yard drive, capped by Zach Abey’s 6-yard TD run was its longest drive by yards of the season. The previous long was 91 yards on a 91-yard TD run by Malcolm Perry against Air Force two weeks ago
On the ensuing kickoff, UCF return man Mike Hughes took the ball 58 yards to the Navy 35. Five plays later, Adrian Killings ran the ball 15-yards and put the Knights back up by seven.
Abey and the Mids had 2:46 left on the lock in the first half and 75-yards in front of them to try and tie the game. Abey rushed the ball for 40 yards on the drive and was fighting their way toward the end zone before Abey threw a momentum-killing interception to junior safety Kyle Gibson with 31 seconds left in the half.
UCF would drive the ball but failed to convert on a 45-yard field goal kick by Jerry Thompson sending the Knights into halftime up 14-7.
After the half, Navy came out firing on all cylinders. Malcolm Perry opened things up with a 15-yard return and then was on the receiving end of a 75-yard pass for a touchdown that tied things up at 14.
But once again UCF and their dangerous offense showed just how explosive they could be. On the first play of the drive, UCF sophomore running back Adrian Killins broke a 79 yard run for a touchdown that left the entire crowd speechless and put the Knights back up by seven. Killins would end the game with two touchdowns on 122-yards rushing.
“We got out-leveraged,” said safety Sean Williams on the long touchdown run “It was a real chess match out there. We were out of position, and they got the one block they needed.”
UCF would successfully convert a field goal from 35-yards, and the Knights led the Mids 24-14 headed into the fourth quarter with Navy at midfield.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Lewis found Bonner open for 30-yards and four plays later, Anthony Gargiulo scored on a 7-yard rush to cut the lead back down to three.
Navy needed their defense to come up with a play. If UCF scored, it would have been the knockout blow that finished off the Mids. UCF started the ball on their own 25, and QB Mckenzie Milton started going to work.
Milton has been terrific all season. He averages 297.8 yards per game and has 15 touchdown passes. So with the ball in his hands, UCF felt confident they could put the game away. But on 1st and 10 in Navy territory, Milton threw a pass directly to Navy senior Micha Thomas who returned the ball 30-yards to the UCF 40.
With ten minutes left in the game and momentum on Navy’s side, Garret Lewis had the opportunity to play the hero the same way Abey did two weeks before against Air Force.
Navy picked up 19 yards on the ground and took the ball to the UCF 38 before Lewis pitched the ball to Darryl Bonner a moment too soon and was immediately hit hard by CB Brandon Moore, causing Bonner to fumble away the ball and the game.
“I thought he did some good things,” said Niumatalolo on Lewis’s performance off of the bench “the pitch at the end may be the only thing. I have to look at the film, but if he went to the corner, we may have scored.”
Seven plays later UCF scored after Otis Anderson rushed for 10-yards and the Knights never looked back. The Mids attempted to find a way back into the game, but Brandon Moore stepped up once again to intercept Lewis, and UCF is 6-0 for the first time in program history.
“They played better than us. That’s a good football team and is the reason they are undefeated. A lot of good athletes on that team and well coached. You tip your hat to them, but I am also proud of our guys. They battled.” Said Niumatalolo “We knew coming in we had to play a clean game. We knew we couldn’t have foolish penalties, which we did, missed assignments, which we had. You have to try your best to limit all of those things. A team like that is too good; even if you don’t have missed assignments, it will be hard to play those guys.”
Navy (5-2, 3-2) is one game back of AAC West division leader Memphis. They have a bye week before heading to Philadelphia to face Temple on November 2nd.