PHOTOS: UCF Wins AAC Championship Title

On Saturday, the UCF Knights defeated the Memphis Tigers, 62–55 in double overtime, to win the American Athletic Conference championship title for the third time in the program’s history. It’s an impressive win, considering the team went from a winless season two years ago to a perfect 12–0 record this season, making UCF the only defeated team in the nation. “I’ve said it before: What these guys have done is not just improbable; it’s impossible in two years to get where they are, and it’s a special group,” said head coach Scott Frost in a press conference after the game, during which he also announced he’s accepted the head coaching position at Nebraska. On Jan. 1, No. 12 UCF will take on No. 7 Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Photos by Nick Leyva and Brad Helton. (32 photos total)

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    1Junior wide receiver Tristan Payton waits to rush onto the field. The last time UCF won the AAC championship was in 2014, under head coach George O’Leary.

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    2Wide receiver Dredrick Snelson scores the first touchdown of the game. The sophomore from Miami scored seven touchdowns this season and received for 656 yards.

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    3Tight end Jordan Akins scores the second touch down for the Knights, making the score 17-7. The senior from Atlanta was named to the John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List, which honors the nation’s top tight ends, and scored four touchdowns this season and received for 459 yards.

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    4Defensive lineman Tony Guerad and linebacker Titus Davis go for the tackle.

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    5A young fan cheers on the Knights. Saturday’s game drew a crowd of 41,433 people, the largest in the AAC Championship’s three-year history.

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    6Wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith runs toward the end zone.

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    7Smith scores the fourth touchdown of the game, bringing the score to 24-14. The junior from Delray Beach, Fla., scored 13 touchdowns and received for 1,082 yards this season.

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    8Players congratulate Smith.

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    9Cheerleader Jay Hollman cheers on the Knights. Last year, the Knights finished fourth at the UCA College Cheerleading National Championships, earning them their 12th-consecutive top-four accolade.

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    10Quarterback McKenzie Milton throws the ball downfield. The sophomore from Kapolei, Hawaii, scored 35 touchdowns and passed for 3,795 yards this season.

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    11Linebacker Shaquem Griffin celebrates after sacking Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson. The redshirt senior from St. Petersburg, Fla., was named to four preseason watch lists for national awards, including the Butkus Award for the nation’s best linebacker.

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    12Milton runs the ball downfield.

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    13Milton rests on the sidelines. The sophomore was named a finalist for the Manning Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top college football quarterback. “McKenzie Milton is one of the best football players in the country,” Frost said earlier this year. “He makes plays he’s supposed to, he makes plays he’s not supposed to make.”

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    14Fans packed Spectrum Stadium for the noon game. This fall, UCF enrolled 66,000 students, the most in the university’s history.

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    15Wide receiver Otis Anderson carries the ball for two yards. The freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., scored two touchdowns this season and received for 334 yards.

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    16Smith leaps to catch the pass from Milton, scoring the sixth UCF touchdown of the game and putting the Knights back in the lead at 38-34.

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    17Smith celebrates the touchdown.

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    18Fans cheer on the Knights.

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    19Defensive lineman Joey Connors sacks Ferguson for a loss of 6 yards.

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    20Memphis kicker Riley Patterson attempts a 46-yard field goal.

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    21Linebacker Titus Davis celebrates after a play.

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    22Coach Frost celebrates with the coaching staff. “This team is resilient,” Frost said. “We’ve been through lighting delays, missed games, hurricanes and 12 straight weeks of games. These guys have answered the call and risen to the challenge every time they’ve had an opportunity to.”

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    23The Knights pile in to celebrate their 62-55 win.

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    24The Knights are the AAC champions.

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    25Linebacker Nate Evans and defensive back Kyle Gibson celebrate.

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    26“I couldn’t see anything because of the confetti, but that’s not my trophy, that’s their trophy,” Coach Frost said. “It’s a proud moment for me, but I wanted to get that trophy in these guys hands as fast as I could.”

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    27Donning an AAC championship hat, Smith celebrates being No. 1. “From my perspective, it means a lot because I get to go out there and play one more game with my brothers,” Smith said. “The team is never going to be the same as this year.”

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    28Griffin puts on his championship hat. “I’ve been asked questions, ‘Has it hit you yet about being undefeated? Has it hit you yet that you’re on this team?,’” Griffin said after the game. “I think it hit me today, when we won that game. I just let it all go and the opportunity felt amazing.”

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    29Coach Frost hugs linebacker Chequan Burkett and Evans. “It’s unbelievable the spirit and the heart [this team has],” Frost said. “They believed even when it wasn’t working. All we did was show them a reason to believe more. What these guys have done is special.”

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    30UCF President John C. Hitt applauds the team for their win.

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    31Milton throws a W while being interviewed by ESPN. “We were able to weather the storm, and we came out guns blazing the second half,” Milton said. “There was one play that I got a little greedy, but it is what it is. The defense picked us up and we were able to get the win. So I'm grateful for that.”

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    32“I love this community, I love UCF, I love Orlando and no matter what I do, I’m probably going to retire here,” Frost said. ‘This university, Dr. Hitt, Danny White, UCF, Orlando — just an unbelievable place with unbelievable potential and you’re seeing it this year with these guys. This place has given me more than I’ve given this place.”