STEPPING UP — My Take: Storybook ending rewritten by the sidelines

Published 11:22 am Friday, December 5, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS HEARTBREAK HAIL MARY: UCF junior Breshad Perriman came through with the game-winning touchdown reception on a 51-yard Hail Mary with no time left on the clock.

HEARTBREAK HAIL MARY: UCF junior Breshad Perriman came through with the game-winning touchdown reception on a 51-yard Hail Mary with no time left on the clock.

There are almost always various angles and opinions that fans and pundits use that present positive takeaways or even optimism for the next game after a close loss.

ECU’s 32-30 loss via Hail Mary to UCF may go down as the most infamous game in Dowdy-Ficklen history because no amount of counsel could ever atone for the injustice done to one of the most impressive group of seniors Greenville has ever seen.

Trailing 26-9, heading into the fourth quarter and facing the best defense in the American Athletic Conference, the greatest quarterback-receiver tandem in ECU history (seniors Shane Carden and Justin Hardy) found it in them to lead their team to a 21-0 run, hooking up six times for 59 yards and what should have been the game-winning touchdown with 2:17 left in the contest.

Meanwhile on defense, inside linebacker and fellow senior Brandon Williams racked up 17 tackles and Maurice Falls (senior) came through with, at the time, the most important sack of his career that set up an insurmountable fourth down and 20 yards for UCF from its own 15-yard line. The Knights couldn’t covert and the Pirates took over with one minute and 47-seconds away from an epic, comeback win.

It just seemed like a given at the time. “ECU, 30-26” would be the final score in a classic tale of senior day heroics.

The Pirates proceeded to take a knee — the old victory formation, which received its name for being the final play that the victorious team runs. But that math deficient decision to kneel twice then run Carden backwards a total of 15 yards on the next two plays gave UCF the ball with 10 seconds left at its 35 yard-line.

ECU’s drive summary: four plays, minus-20 yards, zero points.

The Knights proceeded to gain 14 yards and get out of bounds on the next play. Then UCF lined up for the real victory formation, a 51-yard Hail Mary as time expired.

ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who has full autonomy as a play-caller and time-manager under head coach Ruffin McNeill, took a lot of heat for failing to run sufficient time off the clock against Cincinnati 14 days prior to Thursday’s game, but what saved the pair of coaches from total defamation was the notion that they still managed to score on the drive; ECU’s defense couldn’t hold up in the one minute drill against the Bearcats.

While, once again, defensive coordinator Rick Smith’s unit couldn’t hold when needed most Thursday, this scenario is different. The ECU prevent unit failed miserably on the final play of the game, but they should have never been put in a game-saving situation to begin with. As a coach, there is really no way to explain to your seniors how this one slipped away.

Should the coaches have called for a field goal attempt and risked having it blocked for a touchdown after already having an extra point blocked earlier? No.

Should they have put the ball in the air multiple times and risked a turnover? No.

But a team simply shouldn’t lose a game when leading by four points with 1:27 remaining, possession in the red zone and one timeout for the opponent.

A touchdown is a kill shot in that situation and the logical decision is to run forward four times. If UCF’s defense holds, the Knights get the ball back with two plays to travel roughly 90 yards.

Monday morning quarterback (or in this case, coach) is an easy role to play, but when storybook endings to storybook careers are tarnished by lack of central control, criticism will come knocking.

After the game, junior linebacker Zeek Bigger (14 tackles), holding back tears, said, “I’m going to miss the seniors. I just wanted to win for the people who showed me the ropes. Next year, they’ll be gone so we just wanted to succeed. And we fell short.”

It won’t take the sting away, Zeek, but this one was not on the players.