Associated Press

No. 12 UCF completes perfect season with Peach Bowl triumph over No. 7 Auburn

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If you’re going to go undefeated, at some point the quote-unquote other side of the ball is going to have to carry you. For No. 12 UCF, that point arrived Monday, in the most important game of the best season in school history.

One game after allowing Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson to throw for 471 yards and four touchdowns in a 62-55 double overtime win in the AAC championship, the Knights’ defense harassed and confused Jarrett Stidham throughout the afternoon, sacking him six times and fooling him into two game-changing interceptions to secure a 34-27 win over No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

The win secured the first winless-to-perfect 2-year turnaround in major college football history and, in Scott Frost‘s final game as head coach, secured UCF’s second New Year’s Six bowl win in the past five seasons. The Knights’ win moved mid-majors to 8-3 against Power 5 programs in BCS/CFP games, and joined UCF with Utah and Boise State as the only mid-majors with two major bowl wins over Power 5 opponents in the BCS/CFP era. UCF’s win also pushed the AAC to a 2-0 mark in the CFP era, following Houston’s win over Florida State at the close of the 2015 season.

Auburn (10-4) created the first break of the game by forcing a fumble at midfield, recovered by the Tigers’ Deshaun Davis. He was ruled down upon hopping on the lose pigskin at the Auburn 49, but replays showed Davis possessed the ball while still live with an ocean of green turf the only thing between he and the end zone. However, the play was not reviewable and, instead of a likely touchdown, Auburn was forced to settle for a 25-yard Daniel Carlson field goal after failing to convert a 3rd-and-4 at the UCF 8-yard line. 

Carlson missed a 53-yard try to open the second quarter, and UCF (13-0) answered with a field goal of its own, a 33-yard Matthew Wright boot to tie the game at 3-3 with 11:15 left in the first half.

Another fumble created the next break in the game, this time by Auburn. Stidham was forced into a fumble by UCF’s A.J. Wooten, which the Knights’ Tre Neal recovered and returned 36 yards to the Auburn 21. McKenzie Milton produced the first touchdown of 2018 two plays later on a 18-yard rush, putting UCF on top 10-3 with 8:51 left in the first half. 

UCF had a great opportunity to push its lead to 14 points when Otis Anderson broke free in the Auburn secondary, but Milton’s 3rd-and-8 pass was just out of his reach and the Knights punted. Auburn took over at its own 9 with 4:54 before halftime and methodically moved to the UCF 21 with under a minute left, but Stidham was sacked on 3rd-and-10 and Carlson converted 46-yard field goal.

UCF answered by moving 42 yards in five plays, setting up a 45-yard Wright field goal as time expired to push the lead back to a touchdown.

Auburn roared out of the second half gate, using a 72-yard kickoff return by Noah Igbinoghene to set up a 26-yard scoring toss from Stidham to Will Hastings to tie the game. Auburn then took the lead on a 10-play, 82-yard drive capped by a 4-yard Kerryon Johnson run.

But just when it seemed UCF might unravel, instead the Knights rallied. A 12-yard pass from Milton to Anderson tied the game at 20-20 with 1:20 to play in the third quarter, and an 8-yard toss from Milton to Dredrick Snelson gave UCF a touchdown lead with 11:36 remaining.

UCF then grabbed a stranglehold on the game when Chequan Burkett stepped in front of a Stidham pass and raced it 46 yards for a touchdown, handing the Knights a 34-20 advantage with 5:56 to play.

Auburn needed only 1:44 to pull back within seven on a 7-yard Eli Stove end-around, and the Tigers were given new life when Wright missed a 38-yard field goal with 2:18 remaining, his second miss of the fourth quarter. Stidham drove the Tigers to the UCF 21 with 24 seconds remaining, but an end zone heave was intercepted by Antwan Collier to seal UCF’s undefeated season.

Stidham completed 28 of his 43 throws for 331 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked a half-dozen times and picked twice in the fourth quarter, while Johnson was limited to 22 carries for 71 yards and one score.

Milton had his worst passing game of the season, completing only 16-of-35 throws, but still threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and led all ball-carriers with 13 rushes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

45,161 fans see Ithaca beat SUNY Cortland to set D3 attendance record at MetLife Stadium

Keenan Slusher
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MetLife Stadium has been home to some awful NFL football this season but this past Saturday fans in the Tri-State region were at least treated to a far more interesting product on the field..

As we noted back in early October, this year’s Battle for the Cortaga Jug was going to be extra special because it was going to take place in the Meadowlands as Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland attempted to set a new Division III record for attendance. According to the Ithaca Journal, the pair did just that with 45,161 fans showed up to the game as the Bombers (that’s Ithaca) won their third straight Jug, 32-20.

“The electricity was unreal,” Cortland senior running back Zach Tripodi told the paper, “… When I scored, I don’t think I’ve ever felt something like that. You really felt the crowd.”

The final tally broke the previous D3 mark of 37,355 (from a 2017 matchup between St. Thomas and St. John’s at Minneapolis’ Target Field) by a considerable margin.

For what it’s worth, the D3 game at MetLife also had a bigger crowd than the ones that watched some of the FBS programs in New York, including the 16,286 down in Durham, N.C. that saw Syracuse thump Duke, the 8,450 that saw Buffalo lose at Kent State or the 25,747 in West Point that saw Army beat Virginia Military Institute.

Good football, it seems, is hard to come by in the Empire State but fans will come out for quality play no matter what level.

Louisville AD dons a bird mask, breaks out Pappy van Winkle to celebrate bowl berth

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For some teams, reaching a bowl game — even those obscure dot com-sponsored ones — is quite meaningful. Such is the case at Louisville as they have embarked on one of the better turnarounds in the country this season under new head coach Scott Satterfield. 

Following up a 2-10 disaster at the hands of Bobby Petrino last year, the new staff has revitalized the program and secured bowl eligibility on Saturday by beating N.C. State 34-20. That’s a cause worth celebrating around the city and Cardinals AD Vince Tyra certainly did not short himself on that front after the sixth victory of 2019 by donning a rather comical mask in the locker room and breaking out some very expensive whiskey to share with the head coach.

Tyra and Satterfield may indeed be the only ones to drink Pappy out of a Gatorade cup but it probably tasted even sweeter than it normally does given the accomplishment it’s celebrating. While some fans may scoff at reaching six wins in a season, the jubilation in Louisville is a good reminder that benchmarks like that have plenty of meaning for programs who sat at home in disarray last year.

 

Auburn receives $10 million gift toward new football building

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Auburn may have lost the battle with Georgia in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday but the Tigers at least made some progress on the facilities war.

According to the school, Walt and Ginger Woltosz made the largest gift to the athletic department in program history over the weekend thanks to a $10 million pledge that will help kickstart construction on a new football facility.

“We always tell our players to use their influence in a positive way,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement. “Walt and Ginger are a great example of that. Their gift will help us compete for championships and serve our student-athletes for generations. They represent everything that Auburn stands for. Hard work, concern for others and generosity.”

AU said that $31.5 million has already been raised for the new building in total, which has gone through a number of board approvals already and just needs to finalize a design and budget before shovels can hit the ground.

The primary motivation behind such a project is pretty clear as regional and conference rivals from Clemson to Alabama to the aforementioned Bulldogs have all added flashy new facilities in recent years while the Tigers’ current digs were built over three decades ago.

AP Poll: Georgia moves past Alabama; Texas A&M, Virginia Tech join top 25

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Voters are still struggling with what to do with Alabama after Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending hip injury but it’s pretty clear that the immediate effect for the Tide is to drop behind their SEC rival Georgia in the polls.

After doing so in the Coaches Poll earlier Sunday, the new No. 4 Bulldogs flipped places with the No. 5 Crimson Tide, following the example set by the CFP Selection Committee last Tuesday as well.

Elsewhere in the poll, previously undefeated Baylor and Minnesota dropped several spots after taking their first L’s of the year. The Bears were only down one place however to No. 13 while the Gophers were punished a little harsher by moving from No. 7 to No. 11. That latter spot is, it should be noted, two places behind the team it just beat a week ago in No. 9 Penn State.

No. 17 Cincinnati remained the top Group of Five team in the poll but there was some movement at the bottom of the rankings following a number of losses in the 20-25 range. No. 23 Appalachian State returns to the rankings after thumping Georgia State while No. 24 Texas A&M and No. 25 Virginia Tech also earned an appearance.

The full AP Top 25 entering Week 13:

  1. LSU (54 first-place votes)
  2. Ohio State (5)
  3. Clemson (3)
  4. Georgia
  5. Alabama
  6. Oregon
  7. Utah
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Penn State
  10. Florida
  11. Minnesota
  12. Michigan
  13. Baylor
  14. Wisconsin
  15. Notre Dame
  16. Auburn
  17. Cincinnati
  18. Memphis
  19. Iowa
  20. Boise State
  21. SMU
  22. Oklahoma State
  23. Appalachian State
  24. Texas A&M
  25. Virginia Tech