March 19th marked the 15th anniversary of Stephanie Best's historic game for UCF Softball. On March 19, 2003, against Army, Best set a school record with three home runs. But what made this game go down as the greatest UCF Softball performance, and one of greatest by any UCF athlete, was Best hitting two grand slams in the 2nd inning, which set the NCAA records for most grand slams in a game and most in one inning. Best also set the NCAA single-game record with 11 RBI. All those NCAA records still stand today.
It got me thinking: What are some of greatest performances by a UCF athlete in other sports?
I took suggestions from fans on social media and from UCF experts who have followed the program and been involved with for a while, including UCFSports.com's Brandon Helwig, UCF Athletics historian Bill Beekman, Kevin Reis, and the voice of UCF Athletics, Marc Daniels.
Here's what I came up with.
I am doing a two-part series. Part one will focus on Football only, with part two focusing on the best individual performances in other UCF sports. For Football, we will go in chronological order.
Daunte Culpepper at #6 Nebraska - September 13, 1997
It was a game that put UCF on the national map forthe first time. For me personally, it was the first time I had ever heard of UCF. I was at home in Miami watching college football on TV, shocked to see the halftime score that popped up: UCF 17, NEBRASKA 14!
It was the first time I had ever heard of Daunte Culpepper, and a program that was a massive underdog against a Nebraska team that would go on to win the National Championship that season, led by then-quarterback - you guessed it - Scott Frost.
UCF would end up losing the game 38-24, but earned the respect of Nebraska fans, who gave UCF a standing ovation walking out of the stadium.
Culpepper was 24/35 for 318 yards passing and rushed for an additional 34 yards, accounting for 352 of UCF's 365 total yards.
"He was the best player on the field, and what the moment meant for UCF to have a halftime lead," said Marc Daniels who has been the voice of UCF Football for 23 years, and called the UCF game at Nebraska. "No one will forget that 10-yard run for a touchdown as he broke away and ran over people into the end zone."
Marc is 100% right, as that moment was significant for UCF and Culpepper made that happen. Culpepper may have had better performances statistics-wise in his career, but none was as significant as this game. He played better against Nebraska than Peyton Manning did in the Orange Bowl that year, as the Husker defense crushed Manning and the Vols to win a share of the National Title.
I was a junior in High School at that time at Miami Killian Senior High School, and from that game on, I started following UCF Football and Daunte Culpepper, as I was intrigued. I attended my first-ever UCF game in 1998 to see Culpepper in person at the Citrus Bowl against Youngstown State, coached by Jim Tressel. I visited the UCF campus that weekend, went to the school bookstore, and bought a #8 black jersey, which i still have today. I decided to go to UCF two years later.
Culpepper talks in the video below about the Nebraska game as the most memorable moment in his UCF career.
Ryan Schneider at Alabama - October 28, 2000
In some ways, UCF Football has come full circle, as with all the back and forth between UCF and Alabama fans - and national and local media - over 2018's National Championship. But both programs played on field on October 28, 2000.
UCF was an independent and homecoming opponent for Alabama, who was coming off a 1999 season where they played in the Orange Bowl, and while they were having a disappointing season in 2000, Bama was still a big favorite to beat UCF.
UCF had been so close in past seasons to getting that first signature win over a major program from a power conference. The game was a back-and-forth affair but it appeared once again the Golden Knights were going to fall short as they trailed Alabama 38-37 late in the 4th quarter.
UCF got the ball at its 21, and freshman QB Ryan Schneider went to work, completing 7 of 8 passes to take UCF to the Alabama 20 to set up kicker Javier Beorlegui, who would end up kicking his fourth field goal of the game and one the most memorable kicks in UCF Football history from 37 yards with three seconds left to give UCF the signature win it was looking for, 40-38.
Listen below to the radio call by Marc Daniels, with color analyst Gary Parris and sideline reporter Jerry O'Neill, whose emotions describe what that game and moment meant.
Schenieder was 27/48 for 283 yards and 3 TDs and engineered one of the greatest and most memorable drives in UCF Football history.
Kevin Smith vs. Tulsa, C-USA Championship Game - December 1, 2007
UCFSports.com's Brandon Helwig posted on his website message board with my question of who had best individual performances in UCF Athletics and Kevin Smith was by far the most brought-up name and this game in particular. Here are just a couple of examples of many responses I got on social media:
Off the top of my head:@jtaylor8ball vs. Rice@KevinSmithRB vs. Tulsa— Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon) March 19, 2018
Obviously @pro_swings vs. Army@C9rol_R had a few crazy games@DuffyBaseball had some too
Bo Clark scored 70 in a game (I think)
Leyre Santaella has some too for @UCF_Volleyball
I know I’m missing more.#UCF
24K CCG 2007 against Tulsa— Daniel Glass (@Dgyn14) March 19, 2018
JT '08-'09 season scored 45 against Rice
Milton against Cincinnati...imagine if he had 4 quarters...
JJ Worton against Temple the game of "the catch." He had an outstanding game even before making that catch.
There were many games from Smith's incredible 2007 season to pick from. As Marc Daniels pointed out to me, over Kevin Smith's last 6 games of the 2007 season, he had 218 carries for 1,363 yards and 15 TDs. But the one game that stands out as not only Smith's best game, but the pick of Daniels, Jerry O'Neill and many others as the best performance by any UCF individual Football player ever is Smith's performance against Tulsa in the C-USA Championship, as Smith had 39 carries for 284 yards and 4 TDs vs. Tulsa in the win.
It is the best performance by any UCF player in any sport that I have ever seen in person, as I was in the student section for the game in a sold out stadium as UCF won its first ever conference championship in program history. Smith's 2007 season also could go down as greatest season any UCF athlete has ever had, as he rushed for 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns. Smith carried the ball 450 times in 2007. To put that number in perspective, UCF in 2017 rushed the ball 500 times as a team.
Can we claim the 2007 Heisman Trophy for Smith? I felt back then he deserved it and still feel that way. Smith carried that UCF team to its first conference and Liberty Bowl appearance, and if you look at all UCF conference championship teams, I would argue this team was the least talented team of them all, and especially on offense. Everyone in the stadium knew he was getting the ball and no one could stop him!
When the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame returns (hopefully soon), Kevin Smith needs to be inducted right away, and as I talked to my friend and former radio broadcast partner Carson Ingle, who has been going to UCF sporting events since he went to UCF in 2007, we both agreed that first class should be Smith, Basketball's Jermaine Taylor, Softball's pitching great Allison Kime and UCF President John Hitt.
Blake Bortles vs. #6 Baylor, Fiesta Bowl - January 1, 2014
In what turned out to be his last performance as a Knight, Blake Bortles was named the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Offensive Player of the Game after racking up 301 passing yards and three touchdowns to go along with a career-high 93 yards rushing and a touchdown as he led UCF's offense to a Fiesta Bowl win over Big 12 champion Baylor, 52-42.
The win capped off magical season for UCF who went 12-1.
PS: To the National Media and Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne, who seem to have an issue with UCF with having a Disney Parade to celebrate the 2017 season:
We also had a Disney Parade after the Fiesta Bowl win in 2014 and will do so if UCF has seasons like 2013 and 2017. So please do some research before you run your mouth and come off looking like an idiot. Since doing research is a very complicated thing for you, I went ahead and did the work for you:
Shaquem Griffin vs. #7 Auburn, Peach Bowl - January 1, 2018
ESPN and the country found out what we already knew: Shaquem Griffin is a great football player. But on this day, Griffin put on the greatest performance by any UCF defensive player in program history. Griffin tallied a career-high in tackles and tackles for loss with 12 and 3.5, respectively, to go along with 1.5 sacks and 10 QB pressures:
Griffin would go on to win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Defensive MVP Award as UCF completed a 13-0 perfect season with a 34-27 win over Auburn.
So there it is: Some of UCF Football's greatest individual performances. You may agree or disagree with these selections but we can all agree we had some fun performances over the years and hope to have more in future so it can lead to more of this: