Central Florida QB McKenzie Milton puts last year's 2OT loss to Terps behind him

Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton throws a pass against Florida International during the first half of a game Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Orlando, Fla.
Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton throws a pass against Florida International during the first half of a game Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

The memories are mostly a blur for Central Florida sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton.

It has been a little over a year since Milton, playing in his first college game and making his first start, drove the Maryland defense crazy for more than four quarters at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla., before making a play that ultimately cost the Knights dearly.


After reaching the Terps' 2-yard line in the second overtime period, Milton's lateral pass was ruled a fumble and recovered by Maryland defensive tackle Kingsley Opara. Two plays later, then-freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome ran for a 24-yard touchdown in a 30-24 victory.

"It's always tough to move on with a loss like that," Milton said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Obviously, it was a long season so we moved on from there. We actually had a couple of tough losses last year. I think it kind of made us hungry in the offseason, stuff like that."


Milton and the Knights will get a chance to satisfy whatever pangs remain from that night last September when they meet Maryland on Saturday in College Park. Coming off a two-week layoff because of Hurricane Irma, Milton said he is motivated for the rematch.

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"You don't want to dwell on it too much," he said. "That was a whole year ago, but it does rest on the back of your mind at times."

Milton is a much more experienced — and accomplished — quarterback than he was when he faced the Terps a year ago.

After completing 21 of 36 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Maryland, Milton finished his freshman year completing 194 of 336 passes (57.7 percent) for 1,983 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Knights, under first-year coach Scott Frost, finished 6-7 after losing their last three games.

Milton showed his poise in Central Florida's season opener Aug. 31 against Florida International, overcoming an early interception to throw for a career-high four touchdowns and 360 yards while completing 16 of 21 passes in a 61-17 victory.

Asked whether Milton would use last year's defeat to the Terps as motivation this week, Frost said on an American Athletic Conference coaches' teleconference Monday: "I don't think he needs that as motivation, but he's going to play a lot better. I have no doubt of that."

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Milton, who started because an upperclassman had been injured in the team's previous game, makes up for lack in size (listed generously at 5 feet 11 and 177 pounds) with fearlessness in the face of pressure and an ability to make something out of nothing.

Asked if he plays with a chip on his shoulder, Milton said: "At times I do, but you try to keep everything on an even keel. You've got to count your blessings as well. It's a blessing to be a D1 player. A lot of guys get overlooked.

"I'm just grateful to be out here and have this opportunity Coach Frost has given me. You've got to take everything with a grain of salt, but it's good to have a chip on your shoulder and play with an edge. If you don't have a chip on your shoulder, there's nothing to motivate you to play."

Growing up in Hawaii, Milton idolized former Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick and Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota, as well as two local Rainbow Warriors quarterbacks to make the NFL: Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan.

Milton isn't sure if he can be characterized as a gunslinger.

"I try to be a passer first, and then when I can, when plays break down, I try to improvise," he said. "I try to make plays for my team. I think at times last year I tried to force things sometimes too much. I think I've grown. I'm a little bit better about that. I just try to take what the defense will give."


Said Maryland coach DJ Durkin: "He's a dangerous player. He can beat you throwing it and running it. He's elusive, he's hard to get down on the ground. When he scrambles, he keeps his eyes downfield. .A lot of his big plays come from scrambling out of the pocket, broken plays and buying time and launching the ball downfield."

Senior safety Josh Woods [McDonogh] said the focus at practice this week has been about containing Milton, who also ran for a touchdown against the Terps.

"We want to keep him in the pocket," Woods said Tuesday.

Milton has followed what the Terps have done so far this season. He watched Maryland's 51-41 victory over Texas on Sept. 2 and took notice with the play of both quarterbacks — Pigrome before he was injured and freshman Kasim Hill.

"Anytime your number gets called on the road in front of 100,000 people and you get a big win like that, that's very impressive," Milton said. "I got a lot of respect for [Hill]. He's got a good arm and he's mobile as well."

While he doesn't have to prepare to stop Milton, Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell can appreciate the Central Florida quarterback's versatility.

"He has a real special ability, which I'm sure he learned in the backyard in the sixth grade, to extend plays," Bell said Wednesday. "Not only can he beat you running the football, not only can he beat you in the pocket, when things don't go well...when he's forced to move around, that's when me in the press box starts to get a little bit scared."

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