The UCF football team's luck finally ran out.
The Knights, known for great late-game rallies during their historic run to the Fiesta Bowl last season, could not pull off the same heroics against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland, Saturday morning.
UCF rallied behind reserve quarterback Justin Holman and a punishing defense, but the Knights still suffered a 26-24 loss to the Nittany Lions in the Croke Park Classic.
The Knights looked as though they'd have no chance to win the contest early, with starting quarterback Pete DiNovo unable to move the ball on offense. The Knights managed just 36 yards of total offense in the first half and only trailed the Nittany Lions 10-3 at the half thanks to strong defensive and special teams plays.
It didn't help that two key playmakers, Rannell Hall and Will Stanback, were sidelined for the game. UCF did not disclose the reasons they did not play, but injury issues appeared to knock both players out of the contest.
Holman was inserted in the second half with UCF trailing Penn State 13-3 and quickly changed the tempo of the game. Holman promptly rushed for one touchdown and passed for another, to make the Knights a come-back threat.
UCF's defense delivered key stops throughout the game to make the score 23-17 Penn State with a little more than three minutes left and set up the Knights' final drive.
Penn State put pressure on Holman and steered him toward some tough throws into coverage, eventually setting up fourth-and-10 at the Penn State 43.
Holmnan connected with Josh Reese for a 37-yard gain, then Holman rushed for six-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw play that stunned the Nittany Lions. Shawn Moffitt hit the extra point to give UCF a 24-23 lead with 1:13 left in the game.
The Knights’ defense went into bend-but-don’t-break mode, trying to keep the Nittany Lions out of field-goal range. Penn State ran into clock management issues, but Hackenberg still managed to steer his team toward the end zone. Sam Ficken hit a 36-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
Holman was 9-of-14 passing for 204 yards and one touchdowns. He tacked on two other rushing scores.
Hackenberg was 32-of-47 passing for 454 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
UCF players trudged off the field while Penn State celebrated the victory. Coach James Franklin fought back tears during a postgame interview with ESPN2.
The UCF-Penn State in Ireland was set up by previous Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien and Franklin has done little to hide his frustration over the additional hurdles posed by playing a game overseas. He lamented during ESPN2 in-game interviews that his coaching staff did not have functioning headsets during the first quarter. While celebrating the win, he said he very much looked forward to returning to the United States.
The Knights have a bye before playing at Missouri Sept. 13.
Check back soon for complete postgame coverage from Dublin, Ireland.