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Top 15 Memorable Games at the Citrus Bowl

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UCF will bid farewell to the Florida Citrus Bowl on Saturday, a place the Golden Knights have called home for 27 years. Next season UCF will move into their new on-campus venue, Bright House Stadium, but we thought it would be neat to look back on the 171 home games at the Citrus Bowl since UCF began playing there as a Division III upstart in 1979. It was hard to trim the list, but we present to you what we feel are the Top 15 Most Memorable Games.
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UCF vs. Fort Benning - Sept. 29, 1979
Win, 7-6 (Attendance: 14,138)
I'm not sure how many UCF fans today can say they were there, but I'm sure the 14,138 that attended the Knights' first ever home game at the "Tangerine Bowl" on September 29, 1979 will never forget the experience. Just a week after their memorable first ever win at St. Leo in the "cow pasture," UCF defeated Fort Benning (the army base in Georgia) in a 7-6 defensive battle. UCF would finish 6-2 that year under head coach Don Jonas, who coached the Knights through the 1981 season.
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UCF vs. Toledo - Nov. 22, 1997
Win, 34-17 (Attendance: 15,062)
The 1997 season was really first the time that UCF made some noise on the national scene. The Knights, in just their second season at the Division I-A level, earned some respect in close losses at Ole Miss, South Carolina, Nebraska and Mississippi State. The Toledo Rockets, who at the time were 9-1 and had just clinched the Mid-American Conference West Division, came to town on November 22, 1997 for the Knights' season finale. Led by junior quarterback Daunte Culpepper, UCF gave the fans a resounding 34-17 victory as the Knights finished the season with a 4-0 record at home (UCF finished 5-6 overall that year).
Just a few days later, Culpepper announced that he would skip the NFL Draft and return to UCF for his senior season.
The game is also memorable in the fact that the kickoff time was pushed up to 12 noon to accomodate the "Florida Classic" between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, which was being held at the stadium later in the day. Attendance suffered as a result-- the announced crowd was just 15,062, by far the lowest total of the season.
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UCF vs. Marshall - Nov. 19, 2003
Loss, 21-7 (Attendance: 18,141)
The Marshall game in 2003 isn't memorable because of the game itself, but moreso because of off the field issues at the time. Not only was it UCF's first nationally televised (ESPN2) home game, it was the first game after head coach Mike Kruczek was fired. Alan Gooch, who was appointed interim head coach, ran out onto the field for the first time ever as a head coach. It was the first home game that UCF played without four-year starting quarterback Ryan Schneider, who had been suspended. It was the first home game appearance for true freshman quarterback Steven Moffett, who scored the Knights' only points with a long touchdown run (UCF lost to the Herd, 21-7). It was also the first home game since the announcement that UCF would be joining Conference USA as a full sports member, to be effective in 2005.
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UCF vs. Syracuse - Nov. 2, 2002
Loss, 38-35 (Attendance: 24,043)
There was no way UCF could lose this game. Syracuse was a measly 2-5 heading into the contest on November 2, 2002 and UCF was looking to get that first ever win over a Big East opponent. UCF's offense exploded out of the gate and had a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter, but they could not stop Syracuse in the second half. Even though Ryan Schneider set a UCF record with 440 passing yards, the Knights had to settle for field goals twice during drives in the second half and had no answer for 'Cuse running back Walter Reyes as the Orangemen came back to win the game, 38-35. UCF finished 7-5 that season and 6-2 in the MAC.
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UCF vs. Bethune-Cookman - Sept. 7, 1985
Win, 39-37 (Attendance: 21,222)
1985 was a critical season for the UCF football program. The athletics department was more than $1 million dollars in debt and there were concerns that the football program's days could be numbered. UCF looked to Florida State assistant coach Gene McDowell (who also was FSU's first All-American) to take over the struggling program, which was in turmoil after a difficult two years under Lou Saban. McDowell, who doubled as both athletics director and head football coach, began the process of righting the ship both on the field and in the budget. It wasn't a great year record wise-- UCF finished 4-7-- but the first game of the season was one to be remembered. The Knights, who had never beaten Bethune-Cookman, did so for the first time when they defeated the Wildcats 39-37 on an Eddie O'Brien 55-yard field goal as time expired.
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UCF vs. Toledo - Oct. 19, 2002
Loss, 27-24 (Attendance: 18,812)
Since that first season in 1979, the UCF football program had never been part of a conference. The Knights were always an independent, but that all changed in 2002 when UCF joined the Mid-American Conference as a football-only member. The Knights had played several MAC teams each season in the early years of I-A so why not have the games actually matter?
UCF had played Toledo before, but the matchup on October 19, 2002 was now a conference game. It was the Knights' first ever MAC home game and UCF's marketing department heavily promoted the game ("MAC in Black") and encouraged fans to "black out" the stadium by wearing the color black.
The result wasn't memorable, Toledo won 27-24, but the hoopla surrounding the game was. UCF had no answer for the Rockets' running game which amassed over 300 yards on the ground. The disappointing thing was that had UCF found a way to win that game they would have been in the MAC Championship Game as winners of the East Division.
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UCF vs. Eastern Kentucky - Aug. 31, 1995
Win, 40-32 (Attendance: 13,422)
UCF shocked the recruiting world when they signed Ocala's Daunte Culpepper, Florida's Mr. Football, earlier in the year. Culpepper started at quarterback as a true freshman, beginning with the home opener against Eastern Kentucky on August 31, 1995. In a game that was televised live statewide by Sunshine Network, Culpepper impressed the audience (including Hall of Fame QB Joe Namath) by completing 20 of his 25 passes, including his first 12, for 254 yards and three touchdowns. UCF upset No. 5 EKU 40-32 and Culpepper earned Sports Network Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"I just saw this kid named Daunte Culpepper," Joe Namath said shortly after the game during an appearance on Pete Rose's radio show. "He's from the University of Central Florida, and he's the best passer I've seen in I can't remember how long, except for maybe Dan Marino. I grabbed my wife and said, 'Watch this kid's footwork. Look at him throw."
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UCF vs. Virginia Tech - Nov. 11, 2000
Loss, 44-21 (Attendance: 50,220)
Big game? Yes. Big attendance? Yes. Memorable result? No. Just a couple weeks after UCF's landmark win at Alabama, the Knights hosted No. 8 Virginia Tech, which to this day was the highest ranked team to ever visit the Citrus Bowl. A record crowd of 50,220 (later eclipsed by last year's C-USA title game) saw UCF turn the ball over six times in a 44-21 loss to the Hokies. Many fans were anxious to see Michael Vick play in person, but Tech's Heisman hopeful quarterback sat out the game with an injury.
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UCF vs. Purdue - Sept. 4, 1999
Loss, 47-13 (Attendance: 40,112)
Opening the season with a big game was nothing new for the Golden Knights, but for the first time ever the game was at home. 40,112 fans came out to see UCF face No. 22 Purdue, which was the first ranked team to ever visit the Citrus Bowl. UCF scored on its opening drive, but it was all Purdue (and QB Drew Brees) after that as the Boilermakers won, 47-13.
The loss snapped a 11-game home winning streak. It was also memorable in the fact that Purdue brought a large number of fans to the game (estimated to be about 5,000). Two of those Purdue fans, who perhaps weren't accustomed to beer being sold in a football stadium, embarassed themselves as they ran on to the field during the fourth quarter. It took secruity personnel and Orlando police several minutes to contain the pair, who were then promptly escorted to jail.
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UCF vs. Houston - Nov. 5, 2005
Win, 31-29 (Attendance: 32,635)
The 2005 season was memorable for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest win of them all came on November 5 vs. Houston. UCF earned that crucial sixth win for bowl eligibility with a 31-29 victory against the Cougars and moved closer to their goal of winning the Conference USA East Division.
The fans played their own role in the win as well. As Houston was driving late in the fourth quarter for what would have been the game
winning score, the 32,635 fans in attendance made things difficult for the Cougars and quarterback Kevin Kolb. The drive began with a Paul Carrington sack, then Kold threw three incomplete passes. After the game, UH head coach Art Briles said they had difficulty communicating during the drive because of crowd noise.
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UCF vs. Akron - Nov. 3, 2001
Win, 57-17 (Attendance: 15,779)
To this day, there may not have been a more fired up UCF team than the one that rushed out on the field on October 26, 2001. Just two days after UCF accepted the bid to join the MAC the following year as a football-only member, a future conference rival-- the Akron Zips-- were scheduled to visit the Citrus Bowl.
Akron coach Lee Owens, who later denied he ever made the remark, gave the Knights a little pregame motivation.
"Coach Owens, who I have a lot of respect for, kind of cast the first stone during the week," UCF Coach Mike Kruczek said at the time. "I got a little report from a Cleveland paper and he said, 'Well, we're going to give them a brass knuckle welcome to the MAC conference. We want to set a precedent.
"I didn't put it up on the bulletin board, I took it to practice and read it. I was fearful that they wouldn't see it."
Then during pregame warmups, Akron's players assembled at midfield to stomp on the UCF logo. Kruczek, and his players, were beyond livid.
"The kids were already lit, but the flame went as soon as (Akron) went to the middle of the field," Kruczek said.
The Knights destroyed Akron. UCF scored a team record 50 points in the first half, then called off the dogs in the last 30 minutes before winning, 57-17. Ryan Schneider (273 passing yards) and Alex Haynes (112 rushing yards) both had big days.
"These kids play emotional football and they play emotional football particularly in this stadium," Kruczek said.
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UCF vs. Tulsa - Dec. 3, 2005
Loss, 44-27 (Attendance: 51,978)
UCF's 7-1 mark in their first year in the league won the Knights the right to host the inaugural Conference USA Championship Game on December 3, 2005. By securing the East Division on Nov. 19 with a win at Rice, UCF had two weeks to prepare (and sell tickets) for the big game against Tulsa, who represented the West Division. 51,978 fans-- the most ever in UCF history-- came out to see the historic contest between the Knights and Golden Hurricane with a berth in the Liberty Bowl on the line.
The result wasn't what most of those fans wanted-- UCF lost 44-27-- but the consolation prize was a trip across the Pacific to the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Not too shabby for a team who finished 0-11 a year earlier.
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UCF vs. Idaho - Sept. 20, 1997
Win, 41-10 (Attendance: 41,827)
This really was the game where it felt like UCF had joined the big boys. UCF, still trying to establish themselves in the world of Division I-A football after elevating from I-AA just a year earlier, almost shocked the world in the first three games of the 1997 season-- all on the road.
At Ole Miss to begin the year, Daunte Culpepper tripped on the foot of his own offensive lineman-- coming just one foot shy of scoring on the two-point coversion which would have given UCF the win over the Rebels in overtime. Ole Miss beat UCF by just one point, 24-23.
The following week, UCF had another SEC foe on the ropes, South Carolina, but the Knights would end up losing by two points, 33-31. A week later, No. 6 Nebraska couldn't believe it when they went into their locker room at halftime trailing UCF 17-14. The Huskers eventually won 38-24, but the Knights earned respect from the entire community of Orlando who came out in full force for the first home game a week later on Sepember 20, 1997.
People didn't care who the opponent was (it was the Idaho Vandals), but they wanted to support the hometown team. A then-record 41,827 fans showed up for that night game at the Citrus Bowl, but scores more were turned away as staffers were unprepared to handle the massive walk-up sales.
As usual, Daunte Culpepper had another big game and led UCF to a 41-10 victory. But more importantly, it showed that UCF was capable of big time fan support. It took another three years (UCF vs. Virginia Tech in 2000) before that attendance record was broken.
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UCF vs. Marshall - Sept. 24, 2005
Win, 23-13 (Attendance: 22,217)
On the surface, there was nothing remarkable about the meeting between UCF and Marshall on September 24, 2005, but what happened afterward will be remembered forever by Golden Knights fans. In the second year under new head coach George O'Leary, UCF was in the midst of the nation's longest losing streak. The Knights had lost 17 straight games, including a particularly crushing defeat a week earlier at rival South Florida, and fans were wondering when things would begin to move in the right direction.
The Knights opened up the season with losses at South Carolina and USF, but UCF had looked like a much better team than the 0-11 squad in 2004. UCF got the 800-pound gorilla off their backs and sent that losing streak into oblivion with a 23-13 victory that day over the Herd.
Everybody who was there remembers what happened when the clock hit zero. Thousands of students stormed the field and tore down the goal post in the South endzone, which eventually ended up on campus in the reflection pond.
It would be the first win of many that year as UCF won eight of their next nine games, won the Conference USA's East Division and appeared in their first ever bowl game.
Sadly, the game was also marked by tragedy. During tailgating festivities before kickoff, UCF police officer Mario Jenkins was shot and killed accidently by an Orlando police officer. Jenkins, who was working undercover to curb underaged drinking, brandished his weapon during an arrest that turned violent. The OPD officer, who came on to the scene as a scuffle was taking place, did not realize the armed Jenkins was a member of law enforcement and opened fire.
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UCF vs. Troy State - Sept. 17, 1988
Win, 26-18 (Attendance: 31,789)
In researching all of UCF's past home games at the Citrus Bowl, it was difficult to find wins that mattered. Wins that really meant something. At the I-A level, most big home games were losses. You have to go way back to when most UCF students were in diapers for what we selected as the No. 1 Most Memorable UCF Game at the Citrus Bowl.
In 1988, the Knights were coming off a successful campaign a year earlier and had earned a spot for the first time in the Division II playoffs. UCF won their first playoff game against Indiana (Pa.), but they saw their dream season come to an end a week later against Troy State, losing 31-10.
The Trojans, who went on to win the Division II national championship that year, came back to the Citrus Bowl in a regular season contest in 1988. A record crowd of 31,789 came out to see UCF get a little revenge against Troy as the Knights won 26-18.
For those who were there, it's affectionately referred to as the "Noise Penalty Game" as UCF was flagged for delay of game because Troy coaches complained about excessive crowd noise. After the win, UCF climbed to a No. 2 ranking in Division II. The rest of the season didn't go so well-- UCF lost their final four games and missed out on the playoffs-- but the Knights did win their big game at home over a rival.
Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts and Citrus Bowl memories on the UCFSports.com message boards.