The No. 18 UCF Knights suffered a narrow defeat on the road for the second time in three weeks when they lost 27-24 to the Cincinnati Bearcats on Friday at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Bearcats, in front of an announced crowd of over 40,000, rode their defense to victory as they ended the Knights’ streak of 31 straight games of scoring over 30 points.
Cincinnati improves to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the American Athletic Conference. UCF falls to 4-2 overall and 1-1 in AAC competition.
UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel struggled for most of the night, throwing three interceptions and only one touchdown. Gabriel favored junior wide receiver Gabriel Davis who caught 13 passes for 170 yards.
The Bearcats enjoyed a fruitful ground attack. Junior running back Michael Warren II carried the ball 23 times for 133 yards.
The Knights led 16-10 at halftime, but a dominant second half from the Bearcats allowed them to control the pace of the game. Cincinnati scored 17 of its 27 points in the second half and led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter.
The Knights gained more total yards than the Bearcats, tallying up 423 total yards to Cincinnati’s 341. However, the Knights turned the ball over four times compared to the Bearcats' one turnover.
A pick-six by Cincinnati freshman cornerback Ahmad Gardner gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game with 5:08 left in the third quarter, and they didn't lose it for the remainder of the game.
But the Knights would close the gap.
Gabriel led a four play, 93-yard drive with 3:11 left to play – resulting in a 43-yard touchdown catch from redshirt junior wide receiver Tre Nixon and a successful two-point conversion from senior running back Adrian Killins Jr.
The Knights then attempted an onside kick, but they were unable to recover it and Cincinnati regained possession up 27-24 with three minutes to play.
The game came down to the final play, as Cincinnati sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder converted on fourth-and-inches with a minute to go. UCF was out of timeouts, so Cincinnati was able to kneel down and run out the clock.
UCF head coach Josh Heupel said he was proud of the team for competing, but wished they would've capitalized on early chances.
"Early in the football game we had multiple opportunities in the first quarter, and to come away with three points, that can, and it did come back to haunt us," Heupel said in a UCF Athletics news release Friday. "[There were] opportunities that were wasted and points that were there to be had, and we didn't take advantage of them."
The loss marks the first time since 2016 the Knights have suffered multiple losses in the same season. The Knights went on to finish 6-7 that year.
UCF's loss also snaps its conference win streak at 20, which includes its three conference title wins since 2016. The streak was the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The new active leader is the Clemson Tigers with 16 straight wins.
The Knights will have two weeks to regroup, including a bye week, before their homecoming game against ECU on Oct. 19 at Spectrum Stadium.