Winning a championship is never easy, especially when you’re locked in a scoreless game in overtime with a rival like Florida A&M.
But for the third consecutive year, the UCF women’s flag football team found a way to make a play – or two – in Pensacola to win the NIRSA Championship Series National Flag Football Tournament hosted by the University of West Florida.
Tournament MVP Tatianne DeAraujo made a leaping grab of a fourth-down pass on UCF’s first possession of overtime, and freshman Sydney Fusco intercepted the Rattlers on the game’s next play in the end zone to seal the 6-0 victory and national title. UCF men’s, women’s and co-recreational flag football teams have now won 13 national titles since the first tournament in 1979, the most flag football titles of any school.
UCF took a much tougher road to the championship this year. Early in the tournament in pool play, the team suffered its first collegiate loss since 2012. The loss to North Carolina A&T marked the first time in four years the Knights had to play in the first round of the playoff portion of the tournament. “Team Check On It” rebounded, defeating A&T in a rematch and a victory over Howard University.
Regulation ended with no score as Florida A&M and UCF showcased two of the top defensive teams in the nation. In flag football, both teams are given one possession in overtime. UCF started with the ball and faced a fourth and 18 after Florida A&M sacked Knights quarterback Keimy Milanes. On the fourth-down play, Milanes took the snap and handed the ball off to Bianca Lagos. Lagos scrambled to her left as DeAraujo broke open in the back of the end zone. Lagos threw the ball between two defenders and DeAraujo leaped over them both to make the touchdown grab.
UCF’s head coach, Brandon Baroody said the touchdown was actually meant for one of DeAraujo’s teammates but she just made a play. “Tati made an effort play that most of us can only dream of,” Baroody said. “As the ball was thrown toward the end zone, Tati broke off her route, jumped above her defender and completed a simultaneous catch.”
DeAraujo, who was also the tournament MVP in 2014, became the third UCF student to win multiple MVP awards and the first female athlete to accomplish the feat. She joins Baroody and Drew Hill, both members of NIRSA’s Flag Football Hall-of-Fame. DeAraujo is the 18th Knight to win the MVP award. NIRSA also awarded UCF’s Kaitlin O’Hara and Amanda Hall with all-tournament honors. UCF has now had 45 All-Americans in the tournament’s history.