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Dillon Gabriel Takes Knee to the Head, Becomes Perfection

After a scary moment Saturday, Gabriel came back to complete 18 consecutive passes, setting a UCF record

Photo: UCF Athletics

UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel lay face down and motionless on the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium turf for a few seconds.

Up to this point — the 13:29 mark of the second quarter — Gabriel had been decent against the East Carolina Pirates. He completed 8 of 15 throws for 130 yards, and a couple of those incompletions could be chalked up as drops by his receivers.

Gabriel had just connected with Ryan O’Keefe on a fourth-and-7 pass that looked like it would continue the Knights’ drive inside ECU’s 30-yard line. But right as the ball hit O'Keefe in the chest, a Pirates defender hit him in the back, jarring the ball loose. ECU linebacker Dre Terry scooped it up as if it was a fumble and began a return. Although the referees blew the play dead immediately, everyone was now acting on instinct, including Gabriel.

He got in front of a charging Terry and dropped low to take out his legs. Ultimately, he was successful, but only after Terry’s left knee collided with the right side of Gabriel’s helmet.

He was eventually helped to his feet by offensive lineman Edward Collins. Then you could see offensive lineman Samuel Jackson checking on Gabriel as he ambled off the field.

My immediate thought: “Did UCF just lose its best player to a possible concussion during a dead-ball play?”

Trainers checked him on the sideline and although he was “rattled at first," according to sideline reporter Paul Carcaterra, Gabriel was back behind center two mintutes later for the offense’s next snap. But would he experience any residual effects?

“I’m all good,” Gabriel said after the game.

He was indeed all good. Better even. The only residual effect was perfection.

He completed his next pass to Marlon Williams, running a quick hitch route, for a catch and run of 20 yards. History would soon follow.

From the 11-minute mark of the second quarter until the clock read 5:01 in the third quarter, here was Gabriel’s passing line:

20-for-22, 221 yards, four touchdowns. And he was greater than those numbers state.

The two incompletions came on the first drive after the blow to the head, and both of them were drops that could have resulted in touchdowns. Gabriel delivered a strike to Williams on a slant over the middle, but Marlon couldn’t tuck the ball away from his defender. The second was a throw to Jacob Harris which was a tad behind him, admittedly, but the ball hit him in the hands. Gabriel’s line also doesn’t include the play that immediately preceded those drops — a jump-pass touchdown to tight end Jake Hescock that was negated by a penalty.

But what everyone was talking about during and after the game was how Gabriel ended that stretch. Specifically, 18 passes, 18 completions, a program record.

The only person who didn’t want to talk about it was the man of the hour.

“I’m going to be honest, man: I don’t care. Respectfully, I don’t care about any of that,” Gabriel said of the record. “The main goal today was get a win. That’s all we can do.

“I didn’t even know that was a thing, really. I was just so worried about the next play.”

Gabriel really feasted on ECU’s soft coverage with a bunch of short throws. In fact, of those 22 passes, 13 traveled five or fewer air yards by my unofficial count. The plurality of the passes were sent to Gabriel’s right, where eight passes traveled a total of 13 yards but gained 61.

Gabriel connected with five different receivers, but it was Williams who had his eye the most. He garnered 11 targets during those 21 minutes and caught all but that drop near the goal line. He finished the afternoon with 13 catches for 136 yards, giving him back-to-back 100-yard outings to start the season. That matches the number of times Williams topped the century mark through the first 38 games of his career.

Gabriel began his 18-for-18 run with a deep shot to Jaylon Robinson that traveled 37 yards in the air, at least 20 yards more than any other pass during this span. But Gabriel really had no other choice; the Pirates totally forgot to cover Robinson, so no defender was within 5 yards of him as he waited for the ball. That type of catch isn’t as easy as it sounds for some receivers, Robinson included.

“Being open, I really thought I was going to drop the ball,” he said. “I was a little nervous. I was too wide open.”

Robinson took it the rest of the way for a 64-yard touchdown to put UCF up, 19-7. It was his first of two scores in the game and in a UCF uniform.

“It felt great, but I want more. It’s just the beginning,” the transfer from Oklahoma said.

Robinson will get plenty more as long as Gabriel keeps playing like this. His consecutive completions streak ended when a throw over the middle to Williams was skillfully broken up by a Pirates DB. But by then, what was a 10-7 game had morphed into 41-14. Gabriel became the first player in school history to rack up 400 passing yards in consecutive games. He might do it again next week against Tulsa. And even though it all worked out this time, anyone associated with or rooting for UCF probably would like to see Gabriel continue to pile up the stats without also trying to put his name in the tackles category.

“It’s the game of football,” Gabriel said about the hit. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to make a tackle because I’m a quarterback, but, hey, you’re going to have to do what you’ve got to do, and I’m all good. I’m right here, so everything’s good.”

Definitely better than good.