In our first episode of UCF Throwback Classics, it’s the UCF Knights versus the Houston Cougars in 2009. This was UCF’s first win over a ranked opponent.
I was at this game and remember it well. It was a beautiful November Saturday and it was UCF’s homecoming game. As a five-year veteran of the UCF Marching Knights, I did the alumni band(in case you were wondering, I was a Sousaphone aka Tuba player). Going into this game, UCF was an unspectacular 5-4, getting curb stomped by Texas in Austin 35-3 the previous week. That was a painful game to watch. With star quarterback Case Keenum and the 13th ranked Houston Cougars coming into town, my expectations weren’t that high. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and getting back on the field to play some music. That’s what homecoming is all about.
Houston came in with an 8-1 record. Their only blemish was a weird loss to a bad UTEP team earlier in the year. Oddly enough, Houston played UTEP a week after the Miners got curb stomped by Texas in Austin. That loss dropped Houston from 12th to unranked, but they clawed back up.
A crowd of around 34k or so were at the game and it was on CBS Sports, so of course, the commercials lasted forever. I don’t miss having games on that channel. The broadcast for obvious reasons hammed up the Cougars. This should have been a blowout on paper, but this was a scrappy UCF team with a strong defense that was a close loss to East Carolina away from winning the East division.
Alright, let’s get to the game:
UCF started out strong, getting into Houston territory before AJ Guyton fumbled the ball away. The Cougars wasted little time, using a big pass from Keenum to game receiver leader Tyron Carrier to get into the red zone. The Cougars got to first and goal at the 7 before the Knights locked down and forced a short 33-yard field goal. After a three and out for the Knights and a not-so-great punt, Houston began just outside of midfield and on the second play of the drive, Keenum hit Carrier for a 51-yard touchdown. It’s 10-0 and we’re a bit past halfway in the first quarter. This was not looking good. Another three and out and an even worse-looking punt put Houston inside the UCF 40. The Knights were able to create the first of three turnovers with receiver James Cleveland fumbling. Lawrence Young picked got the ball and began running the other way while one of the officials blew his whistle, thinking the play was dead. Unfortunately, the play wasn’t and while the review of the play gave the ball to UCF, there was no advancement of the ball. The boo birds made sure the officials were aware of their blunder as Young had a lot of open field in front of him and the possibility of a fumble return for a touchdown was very possible. As a result, the Knights, starting from their own 20, slowly moved down the field. Coach George O’Leary gambled on 4th and 1 at the Houston 46 and was able to get into the red zone before settling for a 35-yard field by Nick Cattoi. This drive alone took 8:27 of game time. No other drive took nearly as long. Thank God. So, while UCF got some backhanded luck on the previous drives, Houston responded by taking the ensuing kickoff to the house. Houston 17, UCF 3.
The Knights turned to Brynn Harvey to get the team into gear as he carried the team on the final complete drive of the half, getting 17 yards on six carries along with a 23-yard reception, the only pass thrown by Hodges on this drive. Johnathan Davis then came in and ran three times for 22 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:18 left in the half. Houston’s lead was cut to a reasonable 17-10 and the Cougars couldn’t do much before time expired.
UCF’s defense finally woke up in the second half, forcing Houston to punt on the first three drives of the second half. During that time, the Knights offense went to work, relying heavily on Brynn Harvey running and Brett Hodges efficiently throwing the ball. Over the first two drives for UCF, Harvey ran it eight times for 69 yards and two touchdowns. The second was on an explosive 41-yard sprint up the middle to the house. Hodges went 5-5 for 67 yards. You really couldn’t have asked for a better turn of events. At this point, UCF is now up 23-17, a lead they would never relinquish. The Knights offense made the second critical turnover on their next possession and Houston would take over at the UCF 40. Like earlier in the game, the Cougars got the ball down inside the 10 and had to settle for a field goal.
UCF’s offense continued to work very efficiently, scoring on the ensuing drive with Quincy McDuffie making the catch of the day from Hodges for a 24-yard touchdown. The Knights would get the ball back very quickly via a Justin Boddie interception and return inside the Cougar 10 yard line. Harvey would run it in on the next play and UCF opened up a 37-20 lead with 8:27 left in the game. By this point, fans were feeling something special brewing and the anticipation grew. Time and time again, UCF had always been on the wrong side of making program history in big games, and this time, it felt different.
The Cougars weren’t giving up though. They got the ball back deep in their territory with half a quarter left and went to work. Running back Charles Sims kept getting chunk yardage on his runs and Keenum capped it with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Carrier to bring the score to 37-26. UCF’s drive went nowhere as they were trying to milk the clock and use up Houston’s timeouts. The Cougars got the ball back with under three minutes to go and needing two scores. Keenum made a number of short passing gains before a big 37-yard completion to Patrick Edwards on 4th and 11 that brought Houston into the red zone. Keenum hit Chaz Rodriguez for a 15-yard score with ten seconds left and after a failed two-point conversion and blowing the onside kick, the Knights took a knee and the clock ran out. The Houston kicker Matt Hogan tried to kick it to himself, but the ball didn’t quite go ten yards.
If there wasn’t such a long drop from the front row of seats and the field, I would have expected the students to storm the field.
There’s another thing that made this a unique game. It was the first time since a one-off game in 2006 that UCF wore black jerseys. The last time UCF wore black before that was in 2004. This was the first game UCF won while wearing black Adidas jerseys. These jerseys differed from the 2004/06 edition in their design, which was a more traditional black with white numbers as opposed to the USC style black with gold. UCF would wear these jerseys one more time the following week against Tulane before being retired as the Knights became a Nike school before the next season. These end up being the rarest of the Adidas run of UCF football jerseys and I happen to own one.
With UCF’s win, they became bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 and Houston fell to 24th. The Knights won their next two games before losing to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Cougars won the West division but ultimately lost to the East Carolina Pirates in the Conference USA Championship Game before losing to Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The loss to UCF all but ended Keenum’s Heisman campaign.
The game’s video is a bit choppy at times and the definition isn’t great, but I’m pleased to give you UCF’s first win over a ranked opponent as the 2009 UCF Knights defeated the 13th ranked Houston Cougars.
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