Leg injury casts a shadow on UCF victory
TAMPA – Unfortunately, Saturday’s War on I-4 will not be most remembered for UCF’s extending its win streak to 24 games in what was a 38-10 victory over USF.
Rather, it was the loss of one of the nation’s most exciting players that cast a shadow over Raymond James Stadium.
With 11:17 to play in the second quarter UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was tackled by corner Mazzi Wilkins following a five-yard gain on third-and-seven. Within a minute a cart was on the field as it was clear the junior suffered a severe right leg injury. He was immobilized and taken to a hospital.
“It breaks your heart for a kid that’s worked so hard to get out there and compete, loves his brothers and plays for them,” said UCF coach Josh Heupel.
The injury took place in front the USF bench. Both teams huddled around Milton, who suffered a right knee dislocation.
“You hate to see that happen to Milton because he is such a competitor,” said USF coach Charlie Strong. “It happened right there in front of our sideline. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and I just hope that he is able to work his way back through it. It’s a real tough injury.”
At the time of the injury the Knights led 7-0. Immediately following the injury, Matthew Wright drilled a 42-yard field goal to give UCF a 10-0 lead.
Without their leader the Knights never lost focus. The Bulls came within 17-10 late in the third quarter, but UCF pulled away behind the running of Greg McRae and a defense that recorded four sacks.
“I told the players that tonight was just really indicative of what we are made up of as individuals inside of our locker room and how that allows us to be the type of team that we are,” said Heupel. “We are resilient, we’re mature, we continue to fight and we do it the right way. We play for one another. The best part of my job is getting out there and working with these guys every day.”
It appeared as though USF would breakthrough first.
Redshirt freshman corner Nick Roberts intercepted a Milton pass and returned it 30 yards to set the Bulls up at the UCF 12 with 5:15 remaining in the opening quarter.
On fourth-and-one from the three, Jordan Cronkrite was stuffed for no gain. Milton then led a 10-play, 97-yard drive capped by his 14-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis to open the scoring with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
“That was tough because it was a big momentum change,” said Strong. “We got the interception, (Roberts) runs the ball to the 12-yard line and had a chance to get some points early.”
On the possession prior to Milton’s injury, with the score still only 7-0, the Bulls drove inside the UCF 40, but Cronkrite was again stuffed. This time it was a fourth-and-two from the 35.
Darriel Mack Jr., who started UCF’s game at East Carolina on October 20 when a banged up Milton was held out, took over the offense. His second series was capped by Greg McRae’s 40-yard touchdown run up the middle gave UCF a 17-0 lead with 5:01 remaining in the half.
Led by the running of Johnny Ford, the Bulls responded on the ensuing possession. The redshirt freshman ran for 67 yards on a drive that brought them to the UCF eight, but had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Coby Weiss to make it 17-3 with 3:09 remaining in the half.
Chris Oladokun, who started in place of the injured Blake Barnett and was alternating with Brett Kean, found Ford over the middle and the latter turned on the jets for a 35-yard touchdown. The score, with 1:15 left in the third quarter, capped an 86-yard drive to make it 17-10.
UCF responded quickly, though. Only 1:02 later to be exact when McRae’s 39-yard run put the Knights back up by 14 at 24-10. From there it was all UCF, which claimed the War on I-4 trophy a second straight year.
“Overall, we’re not a very good football team,” said Strong. “You look at us, we were very fortunate to win the seven games that we won. You look at the last five (losses), when you can’t score, you have to able to stop people and you can’t give up the big plays, it’s really hard (to win). In all three phases we have to get better.”