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Florida Conference Still on a Knife Edge

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Florida Conference Still on a Knife Edge

Michael Burrell scored four tries and six conversions vs UCF. Kamenphotos.

The usually tight Florida DIAA conference has become even tighter.

Part of that is because league-leaders South Florida had a win over Florida State reversed because of a disciplinary issue. So a 25-19 USF victory is now a 20-0 win for Florida State. USF was also docked two competition points. But that's not all. A week after two games recorded the identical score of 29-27, we had Florida Atlantic almost coming back to defeat Florida State, and 98 points scored in the USF-UCF game, won by South Florida by six.

Close One in Tallahassee

Florida State ran out to an early lead thanks to tries from Yousef Abu and Ethan Frisch off a nicely-executed lineout play. Cole Ryan converted and added a penalty for a 15-0 lead. 

But a long breakaway from Pedro Velez put FAU on the scoreboard and kept them close at 15-7.

Still Florida State kept going with the forwards and Nick Kudja picked up and was over. Conversion from Ryan is good and it was 22-7. FAU was having all sorts of problems getting out of their half, even with a series of FSU penalties, and finally the pressure resulted in a try for the backs—Sam Williams cutting between two tacklers to go in under the posts.

Up 29-7 Florida State was in control, and yet they would get only three more points in the final 50 minutes. It wasn't as if they didn't have chances, but a little impatience and FAU's defense kept them frustrated. Velez scored his second, running in support of elusive scrumhalf Michael Tierney, and when No. 8 Jacob Johnson thundered over to punish a very poor FSU kick chase, we had a ballgame at 29-19.

Just a few minutes later a winding counterattack from Beyant Johnecheck and Tierney again put FAU close and a nice, flat pass to flanker Mark Findlay made it 29-24. Ryan slotted a key goal to put his side ahead two scores, and FSU held on. But they have to be shaking their heads at how they almost let than one slip through their fingers.

UCF vs USF and Big Scores

Central Florida vs South Florida was wild. The teams traded tries throughout the game, with the final 10 minutes of the first half a torrid flood of points. In that period USF flyhalf Michael Burrell scored his second and third tries of the period, showcasing his elusiveness and pace to do so. UCF had their moment, too, and were most successful when they challenged South Florida physically. Erik Vento's charge through a pile of tacklers was the best example of that.

Approaching halftime, then, it was 31-25 for USF, and that's when Burrell took off for the corner to make it, with his touchline conversion, 38-25. After the break Noah Morris capped off some UCF pressure to inch his side to within six points. But there was no scoring for the next 20 minutes. Not until Burrell once again exploited a gap and burst through from 40 meters for his fourth of the game. 

Prop Michael Bradley finished off a movement in the corner and suddenly it was 52-32.

UCF didn't back down. Kodie Borey crashed over with 10 minutes to go, and after a USF penalty fullback Edward Provost slipped through with four minutes left. Now it was 52-46. Back came Central Florida and they were down to the tryline once more only to be stymied. A knock-on forced right at paydirt ended the game. Burrell scored 32 points in the game for USF.

For Central Florida, the drama just keeps on coming. They are 2-4 and yet with five bonus points for tries and three for close losses, they actually are not that far behind the leaders. However, they have completed their conference schedule, while all other teams have one more game to play. 

Florida State is now 1st thanks to that reversed result with USF. Florida joins FSU and USF at 4-1. This week Florida visits USF in a game that could well decide the #2 seed. FSU has North Florida, which is 0-5 and cannot move out of the #7 spot.

Two weeks later FIU plays FAU in the final game of the regular season, with the winner in a position to bypass UCF for 4th.

All seven teams are in the playoffs, with the #1 seed getting a bye to the semis. So with this conference being so close, being the #2 seed is coveted because they would face a North Florida side that has struggled a bit this winter. What is clear is that no one should want to play Central Florida, because you never know what will happen.

USF? The reversed result just has to be dealt with.

"We are in a great position in the conference, but the job is far from done," said Head Coach Austin Dacanay before the game. "Our job is just to keep them comfortable being uncomfortable on training days, so that Saturdays are fun for them running with the Bulls and charging on."

One More Note

In the 18 games played so far, seven have produced a close-loss bonus point. This is an astonishing number (actually it's eight, since the reversed result between FSU and USF was 25-19). Most conferences have less than 10% close losses (the Rugby East had three in 43 games; MAC, Southern DIAA, Red River, California DIAA, and PAC all have or had zero). To have 39% of your games be within a try is very, very rare.

Florida CC Standings W L T PF PA PD BT BL Pts
Florida State 4 1 0 155 111 44 5 1 22
Florida 4 1 0 178 88 90 4 0 20
South Florida 4 1 0 175 115 60 4 -2 18
Central Florida 2 4 0 206 203 3 5 3 16
Florida Atlantic 2 3 0 143 131 12 2 2 12
Florida International 2 3 0 128 177 -49 4 0 12
North Florida 0 5 0 67 227 -160 1 1 2