“Defense wins championships” is a cliché that only works because of how a college football game is structured. Typically, only a defensive stop or turnover can prevent a game from going on forever, score after score, overtime after overtime.
But on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference Championship, UCF and Memphis both exhibited the firepower required to seemingly play forever.
Sixty-three combined first downs, 15 touchdowns, 117 total points, and 1,479 combined total yards of offense. It was a confectionary concoction of offensive football bliss. It was what was expected from the two best-scoring offenses in the country. Given the stakes—a title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth on the line—it was the best game of the year. Even without them, it would have been the most entertaining.
In the end, UCF punctuated its undefeated season with a conference title thanks to—surprise—a defensive play. In double overtime—which was only reached due to Memphis missing two straight field goals (one was nullified due to a flag) at the end of regulation—the Tigers were threatening to tie the score again, but quarterback Riley Ferguson threw a walk-off interception, picked off by UCF’s Tre Neal that solidified the 62-55 final.
Interception, UCF wins the AAC Chamionship. pic.twitter.com/Gt2zhoqvED— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) December 2, 2017
The thrilling game was like watching the Spider-Man twin meme come to life. Each potent offense delivered a blow, only to be counteracted by the opposing unit. Plays were made all over the field, including this incredible fumble recovery by Shaquem Griffin, UCF’s one-handed linebacker.
I'm sure you've all heard Shaquem Griffin's story. This shows you can still put in max effort despite your difficulties, heck of a play by the kid. pic.twitter.com/8A030r0BYB— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) December 2, 2017
Both teams seemed to only traffic in big plays. On 14 different occasions, UCF and Memphis gained at least 30 yards or more.
The Tigers’ offensive duo of Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller, who plays like a magnetic field that attracts every ball within his vicinity, did their best to keep up with UCF’s offense. Miller accounted for 195 of Ferguson’s 471 passing yards. He caught three touchdowns, including this one:
More Anthony Miller for your enjoyment. 11/154/2 on the day. pic.twitter.com/ck5LfzPAFi— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) December 2, 2017
While UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton continued to execute the option offense to perfection, Tre’Quan Smith tried to keep up with Memphis’ Miller. Smith had 161 receiving yards of his own, as well as two touchdowns. Milton simply had to throw it up close enough to where Smith’s hands could extend.
Too much good offense is never cloying to the palate of a college football fan, and the highlights left over from this game could fill multiple reels. There was Milton’s run to the end zone that tied the game at 31. There was the debacle at the end of regulation where Memphis was called for two delay-of-game penalties, which actually helped them avoid big losses and kept the game going. There was the scintillating third-and-14 run Darrell Henderson ripped off to keep Memphis driving with two minutes left, and then the blocked kick by UCF that didn’t count.
It was all madness. Excessive, delightful, unfettered college football madness. What other way for the Knights to finish an undefeated season?