We have chronicled throughout the year, sometimes mockingly, the UCF Knights’ rote dedication to a simple edict: Go 1-0.
Every day, every week, it’s all about going 1-0.
That motto sustains following Friday’s 38-10 victory over South Florida. But now those numbers are being used to serve in a different, more sobering yet meaningful rallying cry:
Play for 10.
Everything changed when McKenzie Milton was fell by a serious right leg injury early in the second quarter. Football didn’t matter. More than 57,000 didn’t say a word. Or maybe they couldn’t, silenced by shock and sadness. The Knights gathered around their wounded leader while the Bulls knelt on the sideline near where he was being loaded onto a cart.
Before he was driven off the field, Milton had a few words for his replacement, redshirt freshman Darriel Mack Jr.
“We shared that moment with each other on the field when he was on the cart,” Mack said. “He just told me, ‘Go get it.’”
UCF pushed on, taking a 17-3 halftime lead into the locker room. There, players such as center Jordan Johnson said there was a common refrain throughout the team.
“You heard a lot of people in the locker room saying, ‘Play for 10. Do it for KZ,’” Johnson said. ”We’re out there playing for number 10.”
From safety Richie Grant: “A lot of teams say they have a brotherhood, but this one’s for real. Our group is relentless, so we rally behind each other. We play for each other. Play for 10.”
Added running back Greg McCrae: “We came together. The coaches didn’t have to say anything. ... We just all came together and said we’re going to play for 10. Get this win for him.”
UCF certainly performed like an inspired band of brothers in the second half. They outgained the Bulls 281-106, including a 210-60 advantage in rushing yards. McCrae effectively put the game away with two ground scores from at least 30 yards out, one in each of the final two quarters.
“It was heartbreaking because McKenzie Milton is a great person,” McCrae said. “It wasn’t about McKenzie Milton, the the football player that [the media] see all the time. It was him as a person. Seeing that happen to him, it was devastating to the whole team, so we all rallied around that and tried to use that as our motivation and energy, to play for him. Play for 10.”
No player wanted to make Milton proud more than his backup. Mack said after the game that he and Milton often talk about how the future of the program will be in his hands one day and to always prepare for that moment. While Mack exudes confidence and says he is ready for what lies ahead, he never wanted to see the torch passed like this.
“Pretty sure our whole team is going to be playing for him,” Mack said.
Johnson called Mack “a stud” and assured him at halftime that every Knight has full faith in his ability, something Mack said he already knew.
The Norfolk, Va. native completed only five of 14 throws, but he was on target for three of his final four passes, including a 47-yard strike to Dredrick Snelson. He also gained 51 yards on the ground.
“We’ve got to rally behind 8 now,” Grant said.
That’s Mack’s number. UCF will obviously need Mack to be a true dual threat in next Saturday’s AAC Championship Game rematch versus Memphis. His number will be called upon for the rest of the season, and he will have to be ready.
But it’s the other number of the other quarterback that will be on everyone’s heart and mind for at least as long as this season lasts.
“We’re out there playing for number 10,’” Johnson said.