UCF rally falls short during loss to No. 7 Cincinnati

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UCF head coach Josh Heupel yells during action against Tulane at Bounce House Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. UCF lost to Cincinnati on Nov. 21, 2020. - Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was a battle of immovable object versus unstoppable force in the Bounce House Saturday.

Cincinnati’s vaunted defense against UCF’s explosive offense, a perfect match made for national television.

For a while, the two college football heavyweights traded blows, but in the end, the Knights simply ran out of gas, falling 36-33 to the No. 7 Bearcats in front of a limited but spirited crowd.

UCF (5-3, 4-3 AAC) couldn’t slow down Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who found the end zone four times. Ridder finished with a season-high 338 passing yards, including seven plays of 20-plus yards in the game.

Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns, but he also turned the ball over. Gabriel tossed his third interception of the season in the third quarter.

UCF took the opening possession and drove 72 yards before running back Greg McCrae carried a gaggle of defenders into the end zone for the score. It was his eighth touchdown of the season and the 27th of his career, tying him with Alex Haynes for fourth on the school’s all-time rushing touchdown list.

The Knights pushed their lead to 14-3 after Gabriel found receiver Marlon Williams on a crossing route in front of the end zone. It was Gabriel’s 24th touchdown pass of the season and the ninth receiving touchdown for Williams.

But Cincinnati’s defense buckled down and UCF went scoreless for more than 21 minutes in the first half, much as it had done in the last game against Temple. The offense broke through with a 36-yard field goal in the waning moments before halftime.

After going 6-of-11 passing to start the game, Gabriel completed one of his next six passes. He finished the first half 16-of-30 passing for 141 yards.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, outscored the Knights 16-0 in the second quarter as Ridder supplied a spark for the Bearcats. The junior contributed to a pair of scores — one through the air and another on ground. His 3-yard rushing touchdown gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game — 19-14 — with 1:23 left in the first half.

But after giving up a 22-yard field goal to start the second half, UCF put together an impressive drive led by Gabriel, who was 6-of-8 passing for 66 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Williams that gave the Knights the lead again at 25-22 following a two-point conversion.

After a defensive stop, UCF took over at its own 11, driving to the 23, but an errant Gabriel pass was intercepted by Cincinnati safety Darrick Forrest. It snapped Gabriel’s streak of 228 consecutive attempts without an interception, the second longest streak in school history.

Cincinnati took advantage of the mistake as Ridder plunged into the end zone, giving the Bearcats the lead at 29-25. They scored again on their next possession, with Ridder throwing his second touchdown for a 36-25 lead.

The Knights pulled within 36-33 thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gabriel to Jaylon Robinson. The defense, however, could not force a stop during the final 4:27 of the game and Cincinnati walked away with the win.

It’s a short turnaround for UCF, which travels to Tampa on Friday to wrap up the regular season against USF at Raymond James Stadium. The Knights have won three consecutive games in the War on I-4 series.


©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)