LOUISVILLE, Ky. >> Jaylin Alderman returned an interception off a tipped pass for a 66-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining, giving Louisville a stunning 42-35 victory over UCF on Friday night in a game in which Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel might have suffered a season-ending injury.
The Knights and their high-speed offense appeared primed to win the back-and-forth battle after intercepting Louisville’s Malik Cunningham off a deflection on the previous play for possession at the Cardinals 41 with under a minute to play.
But Alderman, a freshman linebacker, was there to snatch a tip of Gabriel’s pass on the next snap before finding room down the right sideline for the TD to spark a delirious celebration for Louisville.
“He’s just an instinctive player,” linebacker C.J. Avery said of Alderman, who was not available for postgame interviews. “Right before that play, I knew he was going into the game and I just told him, ‘just do your job and you’ll make a play.’ And he did.”
UCF (2-1) attempted several laterals on the game’s final play before being penalized for an illegal forward pass that closed the victory for Louisville (2-1).
On that play, Gabriel was slammed to the turn on his left (passing) shoulder while desperately trying to keep the ball in play. Gabriel laid on the turf as Louisville players celebrated. According to social media reports, Gabriel eventually got back up, walked to the cart.
Gabriel exited Cardinal Stadium with his left arm in a sling and a possible season-ending left shoulder injury. Gabriel, who led the nation in yards passing per game in 2020, was carted off the field and X-rays were taken of his shoulder after the game.
“We’ll know more when we get home,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said before boarding the team bus.
Gabriel, a former Mililani star quarterback, completed 21 of 28 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns while also running for the game-tying TD.
Gabriel’s counterpart on Louisville had also had a standout game.
Cunningham ran for two touchdowns and threw for another TD in helping Louisville. He was 23-of-38 passing 265 yards and rushed 13 times for 99 yards.
The victory was huge for a Cardinals team playing their third game in 12 days and in a second consecutive short week. They trailed twice early but rallied both times and then led twice more before getting the final word on defense.
“We wanted to have a lot of energy more than to be physical and all that,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “We just wanted to be able to fly around and play hard because we knew it was going to be a hard fought game.”
UCF drove 87 yards in eight plays to tie the game at 35 as Gabriel scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter.
Louisville used trickery to lead 35-28 when receiver Braden Smith completed a 45-yard pass to a wide-open Trevion Cooley for the TD. That came after UCF tied the game at 28 early in the fourth quarter on Gabriel’s 6-yard TD pass to Brandon Johnson.
“We got the big turnover down there and got a shot downfield,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “We felt like we were close to winning. There were a lot of ups and downs tonight. The crowd really got into it and they had the momentum. It was a tough one.”