The UCF Knights opened their season with a 62-0 victory on Thursday night.
Said head coach Josh Heupel about his locker room after such a romp: “There’s a lot of guys that are heartbroken in there.”
That #UCFast offense tallied 694 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per play.
“There were a lot of guys crying. I cried myself,” running back Adrian Killins said.
That #UCFierce defense smothered Florida A&M, allowing a grand total of 96 yards and eight first downs.
Said defensive end Brendon Hayes: “We’re definitely going to have 20 on our helmets, 20 on our jerseys next week. Definitely.”
All of those points, those yards, the win, it all meant a lot less once No. 20, cornerback Brandon Moore, suffered a likely season-ending leg injury in the third quarter.
We’ll have plenty of time to talk about Brandon Wimbush versus Dillon Gabriel or how Gabriel Davis looks unguardable or who stood out on defense in a shutout showing. If you want to get some of that now, we’ve got it:
All of it just feels so secondary to the loss of a third-year starter in UCF’s secondary and a player who hadn’t missed a game since he stepped on the field for the Knights in 2017. Even tougher to swallow is the fact that the injury simply shouldn’t have happened.
On FAMU’s second drive of the third quarter, Moore came up with what he thought was an interception, UCF’s first turnover of the night. He dodged tacklers down the Rattlers’ sideline. But as he was caught from behind around the Rattlers’ 25-yard line, his left leg bent in a grotesque fashion.
At first, a couple of UCF staffers attended to the man they call “Bam.” Then, a whole host of people ran across the field from the Knights’ sideline. The first player to arrive near Moore was Davis. The two followed each other from Seminole High to UCF and are like brothers.
“That’s the last person I wanted to see go down on the field,” Davis said. “The things he’s been through all of his life, and the things he wants to accomplish, just goals that he wants to achieve .... No one wants to see something like that happen, especially to a person like him. It just hurts.”
Moore was bawling. Then Davis starting crying. The team gathered around the redshirt junior as his left leg was placed in an air cast. The tears continued to flow well after time expired.
If only Moore had heard the whistles.
The refs had blown that play dead because the pass clearly hit the ground. Even as the zebras tried to stop the action, Moore kept running, right into disaster.
And yet, Moore shouldn’t even have had the chance to register an interception because he really shouldn’t have been on the field.
UCF’s starting offense, including Wimbush and Davis, was pulled at halftime. The starting defense, however, remained on the field well into the third quarter. I noticed this and expressed a little sarcasm:
I like how the offense has put in almost all of its backups, but the defense is still running close to the starting 11 out there. #UCF— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) August 30, 2019
Four minutes later, Moore was immobile.
When asked for an explanation as to why Moore, safety Richie Grant, linebacker Eric Mitchell, etc. were still on the field at that juncture, Heupel cited a predetermined play count.
“There was a play count that we had talked about getting to, and obviously when that happens, hindsight is 20-20,” he said. “I hate it for Moore. Just devastating for him. I love that kid.”
I don’t doubt Heupel love for Moore. But the explanation, while probably true, is so unsatisfying.
The Knights led 55-0 as the Rattlers took the field for their second drive of the second half. There was 6:25 remaining in the third quarter. The defense had been on the field for 41 plays. Not an enormous amount, sure, but given the state of the game, what did UCF’s defense have left to gain in a contest that they had unquestionably dominated?
When Heupel was asked how close the D was to meeting that play count, he said, “pretty close.”
I’m not sure if all of the defensive starters were off the field immediately following Moore’s injury. I do know that by the time of FAMU’s next drive — a mere seven plays after the injury — there were only backups on the field.
Too late for No. 20.
The win counts, but it was evident on the players’ faces after the game that the win isn’t what consumed their minds most.
Wimbush looked shaken when speaking about Moore, leaning against the press conference podium with outstretched arms, staring blankly for a few moments at the ground.
Davis naturally speaks softly, but he was barely above a whisper as he talked about one of his best friends.
Defensive end Kenny Turnier’s first postgame question asked him to judge his own performance. The start of his answer?
“First and foremost, I want to tell Bam’s family that it was a freak accident and we’re praying for him, and we love you brother.”
In a way, this kind of feels like a mix of Aaron Robinson and McKenzie Milton all over again. Robinson, a cornerback, was concussed on the opening kickoff of last season and was motionless on the field at UConn for a few minutes. At least he was able to return later on that season.
But like with Milton, the severe nature of Moore’s injury was apparent as soon as you saw it. It’s safe to assume that his season is over.
The Knights have experience with this kind of trauma, unfortunately, but as Hayes said, it never gets easier to see one of your teammates lying on the turf, no matter how many injuries you witness.
Added Heupel: “He’s a special player, but he’s a special person, too.”
I can attest to that. The first time I talked to Brandon Moore outside of a press conference setting was early in the 2018 season. I was making my way up a hill between Nicholson Fieldhouse and my car. All of a sudden, I get a rocket boost from the back. It’s Moore providing the push. I tell him that it’s OK, I’ve got it, but he really wanted to help out.
I interview Moore a week or two later. Immediately after the interview, he said something like, “Hey, let me push you to your car.” Not even asking; he just wanted to help. Now it’s his time to get an assist.
“Everybody on our football team is going to wrap their arms around him and help him through this journey,” Heupel said.
I’m sure this team will rally around Moore much like it rallied around Robinson and Milton. The significant difference between what happened Thursday and what happened with those two players last year, however, is that this felt completely avoidable.