After its first Fiesta Bowl appearance and win to close out the 2013 season, UCF's football team was looking to repeat as conference champions in the American. The 2014 campaign began with losses to Penn State in Ireland and Missouri on the road. But George O'Leary's team then ripped off five straight wins before dropping a game at UConn and then three straight lopsided wins put UCF at 8-3 and 6-1 in the league with an early December game at Greenville against East Carolina.
A week earlier, Memphis blew out UConn to finish conference play at 7-1 and clinch a share of the conference title. Both Cincinnati and UCF had chances to claim a share of the crown if they won their regular season finales. The American did not have a conference title game in 2014 because it had 11 members. Navy would join the league in 2015 and a conference title game was added.
On a cold Thursday night in Greenville, UCF faced an 8-3 ECU team in front of a raucous crowd. The Knights raced out to a 23-9 halftime lead. The lead grew to 26-9 midway into the third quarter before the Pirates mounted a comeback. ECU quarterback Shane Carden led his team to three straight scoring drives with touchdown passes to give the home team a 30-26 lead with 2:17 to play in the game.
UCF had a false start, incomplete pass and sack to face fourth down and 20 at their own 15-yard line. With one timeout left, the Knights went for it on fourth down and quarterback Justin Holman threw an incomplete pass and the ball was turned over on downs with 1:47 to play.
Our radio broadcast booth was right next to the East Carolina coaching box and the celebration was on after that fourth down incomplete pass. They screamed in joy and pounded on the desk and walls in the booth savoring the moment. My color analyst, Pat O'Hara, and I heard the cheering loud and clear. The Pirates starting doing the math of how to run the clock out since UCF had one timeout and the Pirates took over at the UCF 15.
On first down ECU had quarterback Shane Carden drop back a step and kneel down and he did the same on second down. UCF then used its final timeout with 1:02 to play. ECU had third and 15 at the UCF 20 and the Knights were out of timeouts.
On third down, Carden stepped back and tried to run a few more seconds off the clock before going down back at the UCF 24 and the 40-second play clock started with 0:55 left. The Pirates let the play clock wind down and called timeout with :16 left. Instead of kicking a field goal, which would have been a 41-yard try and giving ECU a seven point lead, they didn't want to risk a block and return by UCF. They could have asked Carden to run around and then toss the ball beyond the back of the endzone to kill a few more seconds.
Instead, Carden took the snap in the shotgun formation and dropped back before dancing in the pocket and then going down after losing 11 yards back to the 35 yard line and there was :10 left.
If he had just thrown the ball as high and as far beyond the end zone that he could at least four to five more seconds run off the clock and UCF has a chance for only one play.
Well UCF fans will forever remember the final play of the game, it was the play before that play that gave UCF a chance for the miracle outcome. Using a four-wide formation, UCF stacked three receivers to the right of quarterback Justin Holman. Holman threw a perfect out pass to Josh Reese, who made a catch falling out of bounds at the 49-yard line with :05 to go. That play gave UCF and Holman a chance to throw one deep.
The Knights put three receivers now to the left with Ranell Hall, Josh Reese and Breshad Perriman. ECU sent three defensive backs back around the 10-yard line. Holman dropped back and then stepped up in a clean pocket and set himself to throw it deep to the end zone. Perriman eyed the ball and floated into a trio of Pirate defensive backs and then a step behind them. At that moment, not one, but two East Carolina players went up for the ball and missed and it fell softly into Perriman's hands for a game winning 51-yard Hail Mary on the game's final play.
The UCF sideline erupted in celebration. The people operating the cannon on the field used after Pirate touchdowns or victories must have assumed Perriman failed to catch the ball and that ECU had won because they shot the cannon off only to realize Perriman caught the ball. The ECU coaching box next to our radio booth that had been cheering earlier of an assumed win turned into a loud area of rage with words you can't use in front of kids and a few chairs got tossed against the wall.
Minutes later, UCF was presented the trophy for clinching another conference title. Two days later Cincinnati beat Houston to claim a share of the title as well. The UCF win turned out to be the last for George O'Leary. The Knights lost their bowl game and then went winless in 2015 before Scott Frost was hired for the 2016 year.
Saturday, UCF and East Carolina play for maybe the final time in a regular season game with the Knights moving onto the Big XII next season. Breshad Perriman is playing for the Tampa Bay Bucs these days. George O'Leary will be watching from his home rooting for the Knights. The radio booth has been upgraded as the stadium went through renovations a few seasons back and there's no one playing in this version of the rivalry that was on the field in 2014. But if the game is tight late, don't turn it off. Who knows, the ending might be classic...
Nuggets: The College Football Playoff Board met on Thursday and efforts are underway to try and get the expanded 12-team playoff in place for the 2024 season. There are some challenges regarding dates, format and stadium availability and what will become a big issue is how the new pot of cash will be split. The SEC and Big Ten will not support even distribution of money since they believe they will be getting a greater percentage of teams in the larger field. But the good news is the power people who gave you the 12-team tournament are moving at a faster pace than the commissioners did and it appears 2024 is feasible...Big XII Commissioner Brett Yormark mentioned in recent interviews that he expects a new media deal for his league to be announced in the next few weeks. He likely knows the parameters of the deal and it will be an extension of the current package with ESPN and FOX. Yarmark has said he expects the yearly payout per school to rise which made many wonder how that was possible with Oklahoma and Texas leaving for the SEC. He is correct because of the increased CFB Playoff money on the way. If the extension is worth $400 per year then it means $33.3M per school in the 12-team league. The conference currently makes just over $100M in combined playoff and bowl money and that will likely more than double in the expanded format. But let's say it is worth $200M. That breaks down to another $16.7M per team. I am now at $50M and then through streaming and tier 3 rights and new revenue streams Yormark is creating, there's possibly $8-10M out there. That gets you to near $60M per team. Will it end up at that number? Maybe. Is it possible that it's closer to $50M? Yes. Will it come in at $30-40M? Doubt it. My guess is Yormark will announce the extension when the league releases its 2023 schedule...The new pay-for-play game being played by recruits and teams? Schools paying recruits to..........visit. Two little birdies told me in the last three weeks that both the recruit and team have started using the incentive to come for a visit by asking for or offering money to just make a visit. And here's the key point, is it legal? Who knows. No one is policing it so more and more are doing it...
Final note: About 480 million goldfish are sold each year, more than cats and dogs combined