TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — McKenzie Milton, playing in his first game since a catastrophic leg injury threatened to end his career nearly three years ago, led Florida State back from a 10-point deficit to force overtime against No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday night.
The Seminoles’ upset bid fell short in OT, as Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer kicked a 41-yard field goal to secure the 41-38 win.
Milton entered the game in the fourth quarter when starter Jordan Travis lost his helmet and was forced to head to the sideline. Milton’s first play went for a 22-yard completion to wide receiver Ja’Khi Douglas.
He completed three more passes on the drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run to Treshaun Ward. Milton remained in the game through the end of regulation and into overtime.
“It was one of those bang-bang moments,” Milton said of being told he was going in. “You just got to be engaged and ready to go on the sidelines. It was time to roll. I didn’t really have time to process any of the emotions or things like that. A job had to be done to give us a chance to win the game, and just came up short.”
After Milton made his first completion, Travis was eligible to return. But he was suffering through cramps, and the staff ultimately made the decision to stick with Milton. Travis said that was fine with him.
“I couldn’t get the smile off my face,” Travis said. “To see him run on the field, it gave me chills. He’s a great dude. I’m so happy to see him on the field performing, and I’m blessed to have him on my team.”
Milton finished the game 5-of-7 passing for 48 yards.
Milton suffered artery and nerve damage, as well as a dislocated knee and torn ligaments, when he was injured as the UCF starting quarterback against South Florida in late November 2018. His leg was nearly amputated as a result.
But Milton never gave up on his dream to play football once again, working his way back to run the scout team at UCF last year. He coveted one more chance to start, so he transferred to Florida State in January. Seminoles coach Mike Norvell made him no promises for playing time, but Milton said he just wanted an opportunity to compete.
“It was three years ago when I was playing ball. I was definitely grateful to be out there playing with the guys,” Milton said. “We went through a lot of hard training through January up to this point. We all got a bunch of bruises. I’m just super proud of the way our guys fought today.”
Milton and Travis were involved in a quarterback competition throughout the spring and fall. The Seminoles ultimately started Travis against the Fighting Irish, but Milton stayed ready on the sideline until his number was called.
“McKenzie’s a great competitor. You never know when that opportunity will present itself. He was ready, prepared well,” Norvell said. “It was great to see him get the opportunity to compete. He’s somebody that you cheer for. A special young man; to see him rise up in that moment, I’m just really proud of him.”
UCF football showed its support for Milton on social media, along with many of his former Knights teammates.
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) September 6, 2021
Milton had 75 friends and family at the game, including orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bruce Levy, UCF director of sports medicine/head football athletic trainer Mary Vander Heiden and UCF orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Jablonski. None of them would have missed Milton’s extraordinary comeback.
“A lot of people would’ve written me off, so thank you to everyone who’s believed in me. To me, we’re just starting,” Milton said.
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