UCF Knights close season with loss to Arkansas State in Cure Bowl

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Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

ORLANDO — Justice Hansen threw three touchdown passes to lead the Arkansas State Red Wolves to a 31-13 victory in the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl on Saturday at Camping World Stadium.

UCF’s special teams struggled throughout the game as they had a punt blocked early in the game that lead to Arkansas State’s first touchdown. The Knights also fumbled a kickoff and a punt return in the game, which led to 10 Red Wolves points.

“Veteran teams don’t make those mistakes,” said UCF head coach Scott Frost about the turnovers. “And we’ll be more veteran next year.”

Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton struggled under center, going 22-39 passing for 175 yards and had two interceptions called back due to penalties by Arkansas State. Milton did throw a touchdown to Taylor Oldham to cut the Red Wolves lead to 17-7 with 9:31 remaining in the opening half.

Milton did break a UCF freshman record for completions in a season with his performance in the Cure Bowl, but the first-year quarterback has a lot of improving to do going into the spring.

Justin Holman later relieved Milton in the second half, and went 4-9 for 36 yards in his final game as a Knight.

Matthew Wright would use a 45-yard field goal to bring UCF within seven points going into halftime, but that was as close as the Knights would get.

Arkansas State would go on to outscore UCF 14-3 during the second half to seal the win.

“I hate losing,” said Frost following the game. “And losing the last three games wasn’t how I wanted to finish.”

Hansen would finish the game 12-26 for 205 yards passing and three touchdowns, giving him his third three score game of the season.

The running game was not a big part of either offense as both teams combined for 41 yards, with UCF gaining just 12 of those.

With the loss UCF fall to 6-7 for the season, but improved heavily from a year ago when they went 0-12. The Knights did close the season losing three games in a row, starting with Tulsa on November 19.

“Coming from 0-12 people don’t understand how we felt losing every game,” said UCF senior Mark Rucker. “That’s the worst feeling I’ve felt in my life and just being a part of something like this with coach Frost, he just allowed me to be a leader for this defense and I just feel honored.”

The Red Wolves improved to 8-5 for the season with the win, and finish a turnaround from starting 0-4 to win eight of their last nine games.