UCF’s 27-game unbeaten run in regular-season play ended this weekend, as the Knights lost on the road to Pitt in a dramatic 35-34 stunner. The Panthers marched down the field on a 12-play game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, and capped it off with a trick-play touchdown catch by QB Kenny Pickett on fourth down. They’re calling it the Pitt Special, naturally.
The gutsy call on fourth-and-three was especially impressive given what happened in the Panthers’ previous game last week. Trailing Penn State by a touchdown, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-one with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Pitt missed the field goal and lost, 17-10. This week was a bit of a different situation, as the Panthers had little chance of getting another possession, but they opted for boldness. “You guys always want me to go for fourth down,” Narduzzi quipped after the game. “We may never punt again.”
Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple installed the trick play during the second week of training camp, and the team has practiced it at least once a week. “It was successful every time, so we were like ‘We may as well have this in our back pocket just in case we need it,’” Pickett said. “It paid off today.”
As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, before the play an official ran up to Whipple to remind him that there was still a yard between the first-down line and the end zone, so he didn’t have to score a touchdown. Whipple smirked at the suggestion:
“Don’t worry about it,” Whipple said, according to junior offensive lineman Jimmy Morrissey, who was standing near him on the sideline. “We’re going to score on this play.”
The Panthers seemed out of the game in the third quarter, when they blew a 21-point lead by spotting UCF 31 straight points. The Knights took their first lead of the game on a punt return that Otis Anderson ran back from within the 10-yard line.
Narduzzi was justifiably jacked up after the game. While talking to an ESPN reporter, the coach said, “Our kids got guts, our kids got ... fuck ‘em, we’re a good damn football team!”