Each Thursday until the 2018 UCF Football season gets underway, Knight Sports Now will have a little fun with Throwback Thursdays. Every week, we’ll take a look at the Knights’ best game in each of their years competing at the FBS level. This week, we continue with 1997.
UCF Football’s Best Game of 1997: 38-24 loss at No. 6 Nebraska
As UCF continued its transition to the FBS in 1997, it was looking for that first big signature win. There were some big opportunities early in the season, as the Knights opened with three straight road games at Ole Miss, South Carolina and No. 6 Nebraska. Coming up short against the Rebels (24-23 in overtime) and the Gamecocks (33-31) didn’t stop them from pushing the Cornhuskers to their limit as well. UCF led 17-14 at halftime, but ultimately fell 38-24.
The Knights took their first lead late in the first quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Daunte Culpepper. The ‘Huskers countered with a 69-yard scoring drive led by quarterback Scott Frost, who of course would go on to coach in Orlando for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Frost, though, was replaced briefly by backup quarterback Frankie London after UCF went up 10-7. London led a scoring drive to give his team a 14-10 lead before Frost re-entered to some boos from the home crowd. The UCF defense hung tough, then Mike Grant scored a touchdown from two yards out to give the Knights a 17-14 halftime lead.
“It was a huge moral boost for every UCF fan in the world,” UCF coach Gene McDowell said, per the Omaha World-Herald. “There’s no way in the world that we should be leading at half. We’re three or four years away from leading Nebraska at the end of any half, especially the last one.”
A halftime lead against the No. 6 team in the nation was a big deal for a program that was in the early stages of year two in the FBS. However, Nebraska came roaring back in the second half to earn the 38-24 victory. Even still, the Knights, who entered the game as 42-point underdogs, were able to hang in with a perennial contender on the road.
“I hope that any of the fans who are disappointed temper that disappointment with the realization that we played a good football team,” Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. “We clearly have a ways to go, and there are some things we have to improve. But the big thing is we got through it, we played a pretty good team and we won.”
Even though they were 0-3, the Knights earned a vote in the AP Poll— their first in program history.
Culpepper was a big reason for UCF’s valiant effort. He threw for 318 yards and ran for 34, connecting often with Mark Nonsant. Nonsant finished the day with seven catches for 174 yards. Fred Waczewski connected on a 51-yard field goal in the first half, setting a new career long.
The Knights finally played their home opener in week four, beating Idaho 41-10 for their first win of the season. After the tough 0-3 start, they went 5-3 the rest of the way. They won all four of their games at the Citrus Bowl.
It may have been a loss, but UCF’s strong performance against the nation’s sixth-ranked team, in front of an announced crowd of 75,327, comes in as our pick for the Knights’ best game of 1997.
To check out last week’s Throwback Thursday, click here.