July 10, 2007
Orlando, Fla. (www.UCFAthletics.com) - The following story is part four in a series of eight feature stories detailing the history and heritage of UCF Football, entitled "Saturday Knights Live...the History of UCF Football." Michael O'Shaughnessy, a star defensive end on UCF's inaugural football team and longtime supporter, along with Assistant Athletics Director Joe Hornstein authored this series of short stories earlier this summer. A special thanks to University Archives, Central Florida Future, the Orlando Sentinel and UCF Sports Information for their outstanding chronicles of past UCF football seasons.
UCF may have started to catch up to its level of play by the 1986 season, McDowell's second at the school. The team had its first wining record since its inaugural 1979 season, winning four of the first five games en route to a 6-5 finish.
On top of the performance, fans and supporters helped set attendance records twice that season. When UCF defeated Bethune-Cookman in the season-opener, it did so in front of a home-record 23,041. Later in the year, 23,760 showed up for the homecoming game against Wofford. However, many would say The Beach Boys concert held at the Citrus Bowl after the game had something to do with the high attendance.
What could have been a foreshadowing of the 1987 season success was the season-finale crushing of Samford, 66-7, where Davis (118) and Sam (117), the team's leading rusher for a second straight season (648 yards), became the first school tandem to rush for over 100 yards each in a game.
It was also in 1986 that Orlando businessman Wayne Densch donated $1 million to the sports program. Soon after, the athletics department building was named in honor of Densch and two decades later, the new UCF Football offices would also bare the Densch name.
Wilson finished his UCF career as spectacular as he started, becoming UCF's first NFL draft pick when the Washington Redskins selected him in the 10th round. Davis was picked soon after in the 12th round by the New England Patriots. The defense was led by the program's first Football News First-Team All-American, Wyatt Bogan's, 143 tackles. Defensive back Keith Evans smashed the school-record, picking off eight passes on the year.
By the start of the 1987 season, those close to the program knew UCF football was about to hit its stride. The Knights were explosive; going a program-best 9-4 with a potent offense that scored well over 20 points a game.
UCF again opened the season winning against Bethune-Cookman, 17-9, followed by a win over Elon, 34-10, before dropping two straight against always-tough I-AA powerhouse Eastern Kentucky, 23-16, and a heartbreaking shootout at Georgia Southern, 34-32. The Knights then put together a record-long five-game win streak in the middle of the season, during which UCF outscored its opponents, 242-67. The streak came to a close with a narrow 19-14 loss on the road in week 10 in UCF's first meeting with I-AA power Florida A&M.
After crushing Morningside, 24-7, in the season finale, UCF concluded the regular season with an 8-3 record and earned its first postseason bid to play in the NCAA Division II playoffs, even hosting its first-round match-up with Indiana (Pa.) in the Citrus Bowl. UCF would defeat IUP in the first round, 12-10, and then hosted eventual national champion Troy State, where the Knights would fall, 31-10, in the semifinals.
Quarterback Darin Slack quickly made a name for himself in his second stint as the starting quarterback in 1987 with an uncanny ability to complete the "bomb" play, many of which were to star receiver Bernard Ford. As a result, both were All-America selections, while Ford was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II version of the Heisman Trophy, finishing second in the voting.
Slack became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season when he completed 219 passes for 3,054 yards and a record 26 touchdowns, earning him Football News Second-Team All-America honors. There was a two-game stretch midseason against West Georgia and Northwest Missouri State where Slack threw for a school-record seven touchdowns in the first game, followed by five more in the second.
Ford and O'Brien were each named first-team All-Americans by Kodak and Football News and named to the Associated Press Little All-America team. Linebacker Mike Coad was a Football News Second-Team All-American. Ford would get drafted in the third round by the Buffalo Bills, while cornerback Corris Ervin was selected in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos.
UCF rattled off five straight wins to start the 1988 season, climbing all the way to No. 2 in the Division II rankings. The atmosphere at the Citrus Bowl was feverishly charged and the record-large crowds going to the game were enjoying the sudden dominance of Orlando's hometown school.
The excitement was no better displayed than in week three's gutsy 26-18 victory over a familiar foe, defending national champion Troy State, in front of a school-record 31,789 fans. Down 18-6 after the Trojans scored on their first drive of the third quarter, most UCF fans were starting to compare the meeting to the semifinal loss the season prior.
It all started to change mid-way through the third quarter when Kruczek called a trick play that saw quarterback Shane Willis pitch to receiver Sean Beckton who sailed a 21-yard touchdown strike to fellow receiver Arnell Spencer, followed by a Travis Allen extra point to narrow the gap to 18-13. The raucous crowd got into game, helping the defense snuff Troy State's next drive with Jose Trujillo's blocked punt that put the ball at the one-yard line. The crowd noise continued to increase, which led to UCF's players not hearing the snap count, resulting in two illegal procedure penalties on the drive, and worse, a misread by Willis leading to an interception at the two-yard-line.
The crowd wouldn't quit and every time Trojan quarterback Bob Godsey stepped up to take the snap, the crowd erupted. He kept on stepping out of the play to plea to the referee to quiet down the crowd. He couldn't call the plays. Instead of helping Troy State, the referee called a delay of game penalty, thwarting the drive after just seven yards gained. UCF thanked the fan effort in the best way it could on the next drive with running back Gil Barnes' one-yard plunge nine-seconds into the fourth quarter that gave the Knights a 19-18 advantage and the lead for good. Running back Mark Giacone would add another score later in the fourth for the final 26-18 margin.
It was more than a gutsy defensive effort led by nose guard Mike Grissom (12 tackles) and strong safety Eric Buckley (12 tackles and two interceptions) or the second-half wide-open passing attack, it was emergence of UCF's home crowd. The infamous delay of game penalty drew national attention and forever went down in UCF football folklore. The athletic department quickly capitalized on the momentum, creating the fan-waving "noise towel" by the next home game to commemorate the huge victory that catapulted UCF to the top of Division II.
Unfortunately, the rest of season became one of losses and a 6-5 finish destroyed any chance of a playoff bid. Despite the roller coaster season, UCF's home crowds were record-setting. In seven home games, UCF averaged nearly 22,000 per game, whereas the four away games that season totaled roughly 22,000 combined.
Defensively, the season was sparked by the return of team captain Bogan, who missed the entire 1987 season after breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot during pre-game drills prior to the season-opener against Bethune-Cookman. Bogan finished the year with a team-high 127 tackles.
In its final season playing in Division II, UCF defeated three Division I-AA schools in 1989 on its way to a 7-3 finish, the second-most wins in a season. After starting the season 1-2, with its only home loss to Bethune-Cookman, 23-15, and a loss on the road at Troy State, 20-6, in week three, UCF would go on to win six of their final seven contests.
Perhaps the biggest victory came against the program's early nemesis, Eastern Kentucky, 20-19, in week nine. In the game, quarterback Rudy Jones had ignited a fourth-quarter rally with touchdown passes to receiver Mike Dickinson and Beckton to post the win against a nationally-ranked EKU squad. The win had snapped a string of six straight losses to the Colonels dating back to the 1982 season.
With a new decade looming, fans were highly encouraged. Most noticeably, beating UCF at home in the Citrus Bowl became a daunting task for the visitors. Heading into 1990, the Knights had amassed a 24-6 home record since McDowell's first winning season in 1986.