Orlando, FL — This championship game was a crown jewel duel for the American Athletic Conference. It pitted the East Division’s undefeated University of Central Florida Knights against the Western Division-winning Memphis Tigers. Between the two teams, there was only one loss for the season, and the Tigers suffered that back in September on their first trip to Spectrum Stadium to meet the Knights. In its quest for vengeance and a trophy, Memphis forced a double overtime but fell short as UCF claimed the ACC crown, 62-55.
The Tigers offense opened the contest and rolled for chunks of yardage, moving from their 18-yard line across midfield. Then disaster struck as running back Darrell Henderson fumbled the ball away to UCF’s 2017 All-Conference linebacker Shaquem Griffin.
Guided by 2017 AAC Offensive Player of the Year, UCF Quarterback Mckenzie Milton, the Knights started off even stronger. They went mistake-free on a five-play drive and drew first blood with a 24-yard zip from Milton to wide receiver Dredrick Snelson, making it 7-0. Snelson led his club in overall receptions with nine for 145 yards, including a pair of trips to the house.
After a Memphis three-and-out, the WR/RB Otis Anderson broke open a 62-yard jaunt into the red zone. The Knights were able to reach the goal line, however, thanks to solid defense by the visitors. The Black and Gold were forced to settle for a 31-yard Matthew Wright field goal and a 10-0 lead.
On the third offensive effort of the day, the West Division Champs got rolling. Like a true field general, Riley Ferguson led his squad on a 96-yard march, and Patrick Taylor’s 3-yard run narrowed the gap to 10-7. Ferguson posted 30-42 (65%) passing for 471 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. Taylor bolstered the Tigers’ ground assault with 19 touches for 107 yards.
It was a mere four plays later when tight end Jordan Akins answered back for the Knights, grabbing a 48-yard connection from Milton for six points and a 17-7 scoreboard. This not only broke the UCF single-season record for passing touchdowns (31), it also lifted Milton in his sophomore year to 6th place on the program’s list of career TD aerials. Akins logged four receptions for the day, netting 66 yards.
Fighting to stay in the hunt, the Tigers moved the ball 86 yards down the field and concluded with a 13-yard strike to running back Tony Pollard, reducing the deficit to 17-14. Pollard turned in a remarkable ledger, carrying six times for 72 yards and a score and adding three receptions for 71 aerial yards and another sixer.
When the Knights took the ball after Pollard’s tally, it was Tre’Quan Smith’s turn to join the ranks of point-getters. Smith gathered in a 50-yard toss from Milton to make it 24-14, but unfortunately, that wrapped up UCF’s point production for the first half. Smith wound up with huge total numbers — six catches for 161 yards and two end zone visits.
The East Champions then began struggling and closed out the half with three consecutive turnovers. Snelson fumbled a ball that was recovered by Tiger linebacker Genard Avery and soon followed by a Henderson touchdown, making it 24-21. Milton then threw a pair of interceptions, one to Tito Windham and another to 2017 AAC Rookie of the Year T. J. Carter. These miscues enabled the visitors to post 10 more points via a Riley Patterson field goal and a 68-yard bomb from Ferguson to star wide receiver Anthony Miller, handing them a comeback advantage at the half, 31-24.
The Black and Gold sprang back to life in the third quarter, however, first on a designed quarterback run that saw Milton jamming his way to pay dirt and a 31-31 tie.
Then came a 17-3 stretch where the Tigers could manage only a Patterson field goal from 22 yards out. Additional UCF scoring contributions by Smith and Snelson from 34 and 28 yards away, respectively, plus a 31-yard boot by Wright, elevated the Knights’ new lead to 48-34.
But Memphis wasn’t to be denied . . . the Tigers battled back with two six-baggers in the fourth quarter to tie the game once again, 48-48. One came on Pollard’s second scoring dash of the day, a career-long 66-yarder, and the other featured wide receiver Miller asserting himself with a 10-yard isolation play to force the contest into overtime.
In the first extra period, after losing the coin toss, the Tigers took the ball and rang up yet another Miller touchdown, this one a 15-yarder. Miller led his teammates’ totals by roping in 14 completions for 195 yards and three scores. Adrian Killins brought the Knights back by sneaking in from two yards out to deadlock the contest again, 55-55. Killins contributed 13 carries on the day for 51 yards and that score.
In the following overtime, Anderson broke the plane with what turned out to be the final points of the match. Anderson closed out his performance with 15 rambles for 113 yards rushing and three grabs for 18 through the air.
In an amazing stroke of fate, the DB who recorded the Knights’ first interception of the year also bagged the last one. Tre Neal was still carrying that fateful football under his arm into the postgame press conference after UCF blunted the Tigers’ last-ditch effort and officially became the 2017 AAC Champions.
494 passing yards
64 rushing yards
6 total touchdowns
— American Football (@American_FB) December 2, 2017
Signal-caller Mckenzie Milton was voted the Player of the Game. He delivered 28-40 (70%) through the air for 494 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions, and added 11 ground attempts for 68 yards and a sixth trip over the plane.
UCF Head Coach and AAC 2017 Coach of the Year Scott Frost said this of his final game before the public announcement of his intent to move on to take the job at the University of Nebraska: “I will remember that for a long time. I couldn’t see anything because of the confetti, but that’s not my trophy, that’s their trophy. It’s a proud moment for me, but I wanted to get that trophy into these guys’ hands as fast as I could.”