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Potent Quotables: What the Knights Said Following a Nail-Biting Win in Memphis

Knights hang on to defeat Tigers 31-30

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis
McKenzie Milton
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure how many clicks this article is going to get. I figure it won’t be a big number because I’m assuming that all UCF fans are now dead, fallen by sudden cardiac arrest all over Orlando, Memphis and parts elsewhere.

For those of you who somehow made it through the Knights’ 31-30 victory in Memphis with a beating heart, here are the highlights of what head coach Josh Heupel, defensive lineman Brendon Hayes, running back Taj McGowan, defensive end Titus Davis and quarterback McKenzie Milton said afterward.

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement

“Fantastic team win. We’ve talked about since I got here: handling adversity, how were they going to handle it? Coming together, digging deeper, pulling tighter together, you saw that in the second half. Defense, phenomenal second-half effort. Offensively, we were able to do enough things to score enough points. Special teams did a fantastic job. Just really proud of the way our kids competed for 60 minutes and just kept fighting, scratching, clawing. Battling injuries, battling weather, battling the scoreboard and just competing.”

On his halftime message to the team

“Keep competing. We talked about it before we left the hotel and we talked about it before we left Orlando: Play like it’s 0-0 for 60 minutes. Whether it’s good or bad, you’ve got to play it through for 60 minutes, 0-0. Battled adversity, weather. The crowd was loud; we had some false starts. Too many penalties; it hurt us early in the football game defensively. A couple that hurt us offensively, getting behind the chains and into super-long third-and-longs. Things that we hadn’t been in before much yet this season. But our kids kept fighting, scratching and clawing.”

On getting that field goal at the end of the first half to make it 30-17.

“The three points at the end of the half obviously were critical in the way the game got played out in the end. KZ [McKenzie Milton] makes a huge third-down throw on a scramble. I think it was [Dredrick Snelson] back inside on the catch and then we were able to get three points out of it. Our guys have handled two-minute situations really well throughout the season. KZ does a great job of operating in it, and we were able to take a shot (to the end zone) because I trusted him to get the ball off and still go get the three points at the end, too.”

On the team’s two fourth-down conversions

The last one (in the fourth quarter), we were making the decision whether we were going to go for it or not. Wanted to continue to wind the clock here as much as possible. ... At the end of the day, both play calls are the same. Seeing it from the sideline, our edges did a great job. Trysten Hill did a great job. Taj on the long run on the fourth and 1 in the third quarter, huge momentum play in the game and changed the end of the third quarter and the fourth quarter was played.”

On how the running game improved in the second half

”Hit a couple of big ones. Greg McCrae had really good patience on the drive that he was in with some of the counter plays that we hit. We were close on some other things, too; we just didn’t finish on some of the edges. [Memphis is] really good up front. Give them a ton of credit. They’re big, they’re physical, and they’re long. They made it tough on us all day.

On McKenzie Milton’s toughness

”As a quarterback, you’re down multiple scores on the scoreboard. It hasn’t gone perfect the entire day. You come out of halftime, rain is pouring down; you’re fighting the elements. Just the ultimate competitor, and super calm in all situations. We take the shot, the ball comes out the back of his hand with the wet ball. He comes back and just continues to play, makes a couple of huge third-down throws to [Michael Colubiale].

”He is the ultimate team guy. He is the real deal. Smart, competitive, great leader. Our guys feed off of him.”

On what he learned about this team tonight

“I learned that we’re going to operate as a team. We’re going to come closer together when adversity strikes. We’re going to continue to compete with everything that we’ve got. We’re good enough, we’ve got enough playmakers; we’ve just got to keep fighting when it’s not going our way and eventually, you turn it in the right direction. I think our team grew closer together through what happened today, absolutely.”

On the large number of penalties

“Defensively, we had a bunch of offside penalties in the first half. Hard count; [Memphis] was using the hand clap, I believe. At the end of the day, we can’t do that. They change the way third downs are played, fourth-down situations. We had an opportunity to get them off the field a couple of times and that helped extend the drive. Offensively, we had penalties as well. False start, some of that is crowd noise, some of that may have been what they were doing up front with the cadences as well.”

On how the weather changed the game

“You can’t watch that game and not understand that the third quarter and the fourth quarter, too, the game was dramatically affected by the weather. Fumbles -- a ball comes out the back of the hand of KZ as we’re taking a shot down the field, got a guy running open. The exchanges, bad snaps on both sides. It affected it, and that’s college football. You’ve got to play through the elements and just keep fighting.”

On how Taj McGowan’s long TD run on fourth down energized the team

“You’re stuck in a fourth-and-1, a critical situation. Two-possession game, and you feel like you’ve got to make a play to kind of help extend it and get some momentum on your side. ... Little did I know he was going to take it the distance. We handled that situation, the fourth downs really well the entire day.”

On what he was feeling as the final seconds ticked off the clock

“Just look at the sidelines, man. You can look at me in the postgame, man. Excited as all get-out. I’m so proud of our entire program. To go on the road, a really good environment against a good football team, and to fight through everything that we fought through today, to just try to find a way to make a play to ultimately win the football game. So proud of the defense. You look at what happened in the first half, and the way they come out and play in the second half. You talk about coming through adversity and just continuing to compete and believe in one another? Couldn’t be more proud of our program.”

On what he wants the team to take away from this win

“That we went 1-0. At the end of the day, pay no attention to the scoreboard; it’s 0-0. Just continue to compete and play ball. There a bunch of things on Monday, when we come back in the morning, that our kids need to learn from. There’s things that we did in this ballgame that will hurt us in future ballgames that we can’t continue to do. If we correct those things, then we’ll have a chance to go 1-0 next week.”

Quarterback McKenzie Milton

On his go-ahead TD run

“I knew I was close to the end zone, and in games like this, you’ve got to sell out for your team. That’s how I felt. Receivers did a good job blocking those guys just for enough time and we were able to get a touchdown, take the lead.”

On what this win says about this team

“I think it says we’re a resilient group. ... The second half, it’s pouring rain, we’re kind of cold, some stuff we’re not used to, but when adversity hit, we responded well. Just proud of our guys. But at the same time, we’ve got to play better football, got to play cleaner football. But you’ve got to win games like this to be a champion.”

On McGowan’s long TD run

“We get into that heavy set. We’ve got faith in our O-line, and Trysten goes spring a block. I think we were planning on just getting the first down, but the touchdown that broke, that was a huge momentum shift. Just gutsy by Coach Heup and gutsy by the team.”

On if anyone ever second-guessed going for it on those fourth downs

“I think it was a go all the way. I think Coach Heup, he wanted us to put our imprint on the game, and in our own territory, that was probably the biggest play of the game.”

On if he thought during the game that UCF’s winning streak might end

“Nah, I don’t think so. ... But at the same time, we talked about it at halftime: Just one play at a time, just keep chipping, just keep chipping. It was tough with the conditions in the second half to get things rolling. Hat’s off to our defense; they shut them out. And the drive at the end of the half to get three points, that won us the game. Matty Ice [Matthew Wright] clanked one and then he made one, so that was big.”

On if this win feels more special than the others this season

“Yeah, I think so. I think so. Considering we played Memphis twice last year, conference championship, the way that ended last year, the way this one ended. That’s why you love football: Moments like this. We’re going to celebrate this one tonight, but come tomorrow, it’s East Carolina.”

Running Back Taj McGowan

On his long touchdown run on fourth and 1

“The crazy thing is we were kind of up in the air about whether we were going to go for it or punt it. Our whole offense was like, ‘We need to go for this. We got this.’ Wyatt (Miller), Jordan Johnson, KZ, we were all hyped up about it. And we saw big Trysten (Hill) run that thing, and he was like, ‘We’re going to get it.’

I got back there, [Milton] hiked the ball. Trysten cleaned his dude, and I was like ‘Whoa, it’s there.’ I wanted the first down; I think I got that. That’s all you can ask for. The touchdown was great though. We needed that. I just want to do whatever I can to help my team win.”

On the offense’s confidence on fourth downs

“Our offensive line has been playing incredibly this year, so a fourth and 1 is basically a gimme for us. [The coaches] have faith in whoever’s back there in the backfield, and we have faith in the O-line. So, fourth and 1, it’s almost always going to be a Go For It situation. ...”

On if the team panicked when the Memphis lead was 16.

“We were kind of intrigued. It was like, ‘OK, [Memphis] wants to play tonight.’ We’ve been beating a lot of teams pretty good this season. Credit to Memphis for coming out there and swinging all night love. Also, credit to the defense because they shut them out in the second half, and that’s really what we needed. As a team, we thrive off of adversity, so that situation didn’t faze us at all, really. We knew it was going to be a turning point.”

On what it feels like to know that TD run will be a career-defining play for him

“That felt great. Being here, all these years, all this time, I’ve been working just to get an opportunity to help my team win. So, to be in that moment and that situation and to do that, kind of turn the tide for us, I’ll never forget that moment in my life.”

On Milton’s performance

“We saw the dude we’ve seen all season: We saw a dog. No matter the situation, he never panics, and that keeps us at ease as well. When he does the crazy things he does, we’re not prepared for it, but we’re kind of used to it at this point, like when he dove into the end zone, we were kind of just looking at each other like ’Whoaaaa. OK. That’s him.’ And he got up. He’s done it all season. He’s a dog. He’s a monster on the field. He has that beast mentality, so seeing him do the things he does, at this point, we’re used to it.”

On if the feeling in the locker room feels more intense than other wins this season

“Honestly, it felt like AAC Championship Game all over again in the locker room. Just the whole situation where we had to fight through adversity. This was really the first adversity we’ve had this season. The chance for us to really get together as a team and bond and fight through it together, those type of moments, those are the ones you live for. In the locker room, you kind of felt the passion we had and the family environment. We’re always going to stick with each other no matter the situation.”

On the strength of this team’s will to win

“This team is so strong-willed, it’s incredible. We don’t accept failure at all. ...”

Defensive End Titus Davis

On what was said by the defense during halftime

“We knew we came out a little shaky, but we weren’t doing so bad; they were just driving the ball, a lot of big plays. ... Just going back into the locker room knowing that we believe in ourselves, and knowing that we’ve worked so hard -- we work all week. And just knowing our game plan was going to shine through at the end of the day..”

On if Memphis did anything to surprise the defense

“It wasn’t really surprising. [Darrell Henderson] is a great running back. He did his thing. So, just credit to him and credit to Memphis for just coming out with a good game plan. But we adapted well in the locker room. Second half, we came out and we shut it down.”

On what he thought when he saw Milton’s rushing TD

“Just guts. Guts. McKenzie will lay it out there for the team, and that’s one thing that everybody on the team knows. McKenzie will put his all out for the team, man. We love that about him because we’ll do the same for him. Going into the game, we knew these guys were going to be a good team and they always have been. [Milton] telling us before the game, ‘I’ll do anything to win,’ and we said the same to him. We got each other’s back.”

On what this game taught him about the team

“It definitely showed me a lot. These guys are willing to dig deep, find energy when we’re down. We haven’t been down like this all season. Just knowing that these guys’ will to win is deep down in them, knowing that I can help, speak, talk to them to get it up out of them. And knowing that if this adversity comes up again, these guys are still willing to fight.”

Defensive End Brendon Hayes

On the defense’s second-half effort

“The first half, we came out kind of slow. The second half, we kind of dialed them up, fixed a lot of things. Made plays, made tackles for loss, and that was the deciding factor in the game.”

On what Randy Shannon said at halftime to the defense

“Just keep playing physical, keep getting off the ball. Play our techniques and keep our reads, and wrap up and make tackles.”

On what this game says about this team

“It’s just a testament to everything we put in, week in and week out. It’s just amazing to come into a hostile environment like that and pull out a win. It’s a blessing, honestly.”

On Taj McGowan’s long TD run

“I think that definitely gave us a big boost. Going down two scores, everybody was trying to see who was going to make the play, and for Taj to do it, that was big. It’s just a testament to how hard he’s been working since he’s been here.”

On whether the defense wanted to be on the field with the game on the line on the final drive

“Definitely. We live to play in situations like that. I feel like the effort we gave just shows, on the field, we didn’t give up. No matter how many big plays we busted or how many missed tackles we had, we kept playing and sticking to our assignments.”