College Football

Baylor’s historic rally spoils UCF Big 12 home opener


UCF dropped a heartbreaking 36-35 decision at home to Baylor on Saturday, Sept. 30 at FBC Mortgage Stadium. Photo by Michael Fettig.

Coaches preach it over and over again. Football is a four-quarter, 60-minute game. That mantra was never more clearly illustrated than in Central Florida’s Big 12 home opener.

The Knights raised the curtain on Big 12 football at FBC Mortgage Stadium in much the same way they started most games of the 2023 season. They scored on their first three possessions to take control. Backup quarterback Timmy McClain engineered scoring drives of 79, 52 and 65 yards to kickstart a 234-yard passing game. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.

A 21-7 first-quarter lead grew to 28-7 by halftime, and the Knights extended that margin to 35-7 midway through the third quarter.

And that’s where the story begins on this historic afternoon. Baylor scored the final 29 points of the game, including 26 in the fourth quarter alone to pull out a stunning 36-35 victory.

“We let one off the hook,” said Knights head coach Gus Malzahn. “We just got beat by a team that shouldn’t beat us. We did everything it took to lose the game.”

Baylor scored on all three fourth-quarter possessions (2 TDs, FG) and were twice successful on two-point conversion attempts. The Bears added a crucial defensive score, scooping a fumble and returning it 72 yards for a touchdown.

It all added up to Baylor’s largest comeback in school history and the largest comeback ever allowed by UCF (3-2, 0-2), which lost for the second consecutive game after opening the season with three straight wins.

In their first-ever Big 12 home game, the UCF Knights came up just short in a 36-35 loss to Baylor. Photo by Michael Fettig.

A much-anticipated game that had been sold out since last June could not have started out any better for the homestanding Knights. On their first play from scrimmage, Johnny Richardson raced 79 yards for a touchdown. It was a career-long run for Richardson, who led all rushers with 105 yards on just six carries.

RJ Harvey added 95 rushing yards on a team-high 21 carries.

McClain capped an explosive first quarter with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Javon Baker, who led the Knights with 113 receiving yards on three catches. It was a 15-minute period in which the Knights rolled up 201 total yards.

The Knights added a defensive touchdown in the second quarter when Demari Henderson scooped a fumble and returned it 87 yards to the end zone. Jason Johnson led UCF’s defensive charges with 15 tackles, including nine solo, and McClain kept things rolling for the Knights on the first possession of the second half with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Townsend.

But from that point on the momentum shifted to Baylor’s side and the Knights could not reclaim it. Their final drive of the game reached the Baylor 41-yard line where a last-second desperation 59-yard field goal attempt failed.

“I just told the team that it’s a tough loss and a game that we let it get away,” Malzahn said. “I think everybody sees that and everybody knows that. We gotta find a way to put this behind us.”

The Knights look to stop a two-game skid on Saturday when they visit the Kansas Jayhawks (4-1, 1-1).

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