Wind was a big factor Saturday, and UCF struggled to get the ball wide quickly. /// Photo courtesy 247 Sports
It was a meeting of the undefeateds Saturday, as Central Florida hosted Florida International in the new DI Florida college conference. It was the Knights that kept their perfect record intact, beating the Panthers 24-14.
High winds were very influential, and they disrupted UCF’s wide game.
“We didn’t adjust to the wind and couldn’t move the ball well,” UCF head coach Raoul Besse said. “The back line kept running the the same angles, but I tried to explain that we needed to get closer, make easier passes, and then the space would come. We just couldn’t get it wide quick enough.”
The backline was working some newer combinations, with Jackie Edge moving from fullback to flyhalf, and Cortney Kuehl moving from flyhalf to fullback. It was important for the backs to build confidence, so they got a lot of ball. Inside center Rachel Mederas made good use of her touches and scored a hat trick.
The backs have good speed and many played with the Orlando Women’s 7s team that competed at club 7s nationals last summer. But it’s the UCF forwards, many of which are sophomores, who are tough to beat. In particular, props Sara Karuli and Julia Phillips were unstoppable on Saturday.
“This is the biggest team I’ve ever had – bigger than women’s [club] teams even,” Besse said of his pack. “The scary part is that they’re big, physical, and there’s no sacrifice in mobility.”
FIU struggled to find its rhythm, although it did well to take advantage of two UCF mistakes – a turnover and intercept – that led to tries. Otherwise, the Knights’ defense knew where to focus.
“FIU has some good athletes,” Besse praised. “The No. 8, scrumhalf, center – all good players, and we knew they rely on them. Our defense starved them of possession, and they couldn’t do a lot.”
The Florida conference will use its standings to name a representative to nationals, and as the league favorite, UCF must add in some more prepatory competition. The Knights have typically attended the St. Patrick’s Day tournament in Savannah, but UCF opted for a friendly against Life University in March. The Running Eagles are a founding member of the DI Elite competition.
“The last time we played, it was a really great game,” Besse remembered last year’s SIRC final. “They’re short and fast, we’re big and physical, so it’s a good match-up. We’ll help each other get ready for the playoffs.”
UCF (3-0) and FIU (2-1) will see each other on February 6. This weekend, the Knights travel to Florida (0-3), while a battle of the DI rookies occurs between FIU and South Florida (3-1). USF spent last Saturday beating Florida State (0-3) 36-29.