Wide receiver Rannell Hall awaited a kickoff on the 5-yard line. The UCF football team had watched a 10-point first-half lead morph into a 24-10 deficit with 9 minutes to play in the third quarter. Hall knew his team needed more than a pick-me-up.
They needed a game-changer.
His 58-yard kickoff return gave new life to the UCF offense. It sent the black-clad fans into a frenzy. It was the bass of a rally cry that proved to be exactly what the Knights needed to fuel a 31-24 comeback overtime victory on Thursday night in front of a national television audience.
“It got the momentum going for the offense, and just the team in general. We were able to punch it in after that,” Hall said. “I felt it from the crowd on my way to the sideline. I saw everybody jumping up. I knew we had the momentum back on our side.”
Following Hall’s return, everything started clicking back into place. Running back William Stanback found the end zone on a 2-yard run for UCF’s first touchdown since the end of the first quarter. Linebacker Terrance Plummer forced and recovered a fumble that put a halt to a BYU scoring threat in the red zone. Wide receiver Josh Reese somehow caught a spectacular 37-yard touchdown reception while falling to the ground with a defender draped all over him.
Quarterback Justin Holman connected with Stanback for the go-ahead touchdown in the extra period. The Knights’ defense came up with a goal-line stop to seal what was just the second overtime victory in program history.
“That was a heck of a ball game,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said. “I thought the resiliency of the team was outstanding. When you go down 17-10, 24-10, and you come back, it shows that you have some perseverance with your team.”
Holman played admirably, completing 30-of-51 attempts for 326 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a score. But it was Plummer who stole the show. The senior linebacker, whose uncle passed away a day prior, was the heartbeat of the team with 17 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and the subsequent recovery.
“Last year, my closest friend died in a homicide. My uncle died yesterday. I was crying and I told my mom, `What am I going to do?'” Plummer said. “She said, `You have to play your heart out for your uncle and for your friend.’ I just went out there. I have brothers behind me, but I didn’t tell them that because I didn’t want them to worry about me. At the same time, I loved my uncle and I loved my friend, so I just wanted to go out there and play.”
Holman started 5-for-5 on the Knights’ opening drive, including a string of passes to Breshad Perriman, J.J. Worton and Jordan Akins that moved the chains on each completion.
Facing fourth-and-one on the five-yard line, Holman took it upon himself to deliver the first touchdown as he catapulted into the end zone after defensive back Jordan Johnson attempted a low tackle.
UCF’s defense forced the Cougars to go 3-and-out, and Worton’s 32-yard punt return set up the Knights in BYU territory. Holman extended his hot start to 8-of-8, helping advance his team to the 25-yard line. Kicker Shawn Moffitt then matched his season-long field goal. The 42-yarder padded the Knights’ advantage to 10-0 with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter.
The Cougars finally cracked into the red zone with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, but UCF’s defense ensured that they wouldn’t stay there for long. On first-and-10, quarterback Christian Stewart aired it out to the front-left pylon and Jacoby Glenn stretched out to snag his third interception of the season – a career-high – for a touchback.
BYU did manage to get on the scoreboard before the end of the half, marching the ball downfield on a 10-play drive that ate up 41 yards. Plummer prevented the Cougars from picking up a first down on third-and-3 with a tackle for loss. BYU called upon Trevor Samson to convert a 32-yard field goal with 5:12 to go, making it 10-3.
Stanback resuscitated UCF’s offense, which had stalled in the second quarter with four-consecutive three-and-out drives. His 14-yard reception gave UCF a first down, and Hall put the Knights into scoring position at the 23-yard line with his 16-yard catch.
But BYU came up with a big stop thanks to Sione Takitaki’s sack and fumble recovery to close out the half which left UCF with a 10-3 edge at the break.
The Cougars opened up the half with Colby Pearson’s 4-yard game-tying touchdown catch on third-and-goal, halting the UCF defense’s streak of keeping opponents out of the end zone for nine-consecutive quarters.
BYU put UCF on its heels by capitalizing on a misfortunate fumble on a punt return. Scott Arellano’s 27-yard punt hit a Knight’s leg, allowing Algernon Brown to recover the ball, which set up his team on UCF’s 25-yard line. Paul Lasike rushed 10 yards on BYU’s first play before Stewart connected with Devin Mahina for a touchdown, 17-10.
Things snowballed for UCF as Holman’s first pass of the next drive was intercepted by Skye Povey. He picked up 15 yards before he was brought down and a personal foul penalty bumped up the Cougars to the 14-yard line. Once again, Stewart found Mahina for a touchdown and just like that, the Cougars held a 24-10 lead.
Enter Hall. His 58-yard return carried UCF to BYU’s 37-yard line. Facing fourth-and-one, Holman inched his way to the 10-yard line to make it first-and-goal. He found Justin Tukes for an 8-yard reception and Stanback punched it in, 24-17, with 5:37 remaining.
The Cougars rolled into the red zone on 13 plays into the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Plummer forced a fumble and recovered the ball. Although the Knights came up short in converting the turnover to points, the stop allowed them to eventually tie the game with 10:17 remaining thanks to Reese’s steady hands. On a free play, with BYU jumping offside, Holman threw it deep to Reese, who made a spectacular catch to tie things up, 24-24.
Moffitt missed a potential game-winning 50-yard field goal that was blocked with four seconds on the clock, forcing overtime.
BYU won the coin toss for the extra period and elected to play defense first. UCF headed toward the south end zone and its rowdy student section.
“The crowd was outstanding tonight. There is a reason we were down in the student end,” O’Leary said. “You have a choice. They won the toss, so we got to pick the end. We pointed to the student end right away. There is a noise factor down there that helps. I thought it was just a great football night.”
Holman made some magic happen as he bounced around for a 6-yard rush while picking up a facemask penalty that fast-tracked his team to the 8-yard line. Time and again, the Knights relied on Stanback as their target, and with his four-yard touchdown reception, he helped grab a 31-24 lead that forced BYU to match on its possession.
Stewart managed to pick up a first down with his completion to Mahina at the 13-yard line. But the Cougars could not tie it. UCF’s defense held strong inside the 5-yard line for the dramatic win.