The Flames forced four turnovers and scored on seven of their first 10 drives, rolling to a convincing, conference-clinching 56-14 victory over No. 18/16 Charleston Southern, Saturday afternoon, at Buccaneer Field.
The victory, Liberty’s fifth in a row, pushes the Flames record to 8-4 on the season and to 4-1 in the Big South. Liberty shares the conference title with No. 11/7 Coastal Carolina, who finished up conference play last week with a 46-13 victory over Presbyterian College.
The win also marks Liberty’s second victory over a Top 25 program under head coach Turner Gill and the second-highest ranked team Liberty has beaten on the road in program history.
Liberty claims its sixth Big South title in the last seven years, tying Coastal Carolina for the most titles in conference history. During the last seven years, Liberty has posted a 34-5 Big South record.
Charleston Southern drops its second game in a row and finishes its regular season with 10-3 record and 3-2 mark in Big South play. The Buccaneers, who saw their eight-game home winning streak come to an end, committed 14 penalties for 87 penalty yards and had four turnovers during the game.
The Flames wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, winning the coin toss and scoring on the game’s opening drive. Quarterback Josh Woodrum completed all four of his passing attempts on the six-play, 66-yard drive. Then, he scampered 13 yards to put the Flames on the scoreboard with his fifth rushing touchdown of the season to give Liberty a 7-0 lead at the 12:12 mark of the first quarter.
The Buccaneers looked like they may respond on their first drive of the contest, moving the ball to the Flames’ 30-yard line. However, Jacob Hagen recorded his team-leading fifth interception of the season midway through the first quarter to keep Charleston Southern off the scoreboard.
The score remained the same until early in the second quarter when Charleston Southern
hurt its own cause by committing five penalties during a Liberty 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Two of the Buccaneers’ five infractions were on third down, allowing the Flames to keep the drive alive. Directly following a pass interference call, which pushed Liberty into the red zone, Woodrum found Dante Shells open over the middle for an 18-yard strike. The sophomore’s first career touchdown put Liberty up, 14-0, with 10:32 left before halftime.
The Buccaneers managed to pick up one first down on their next drive, but a tipped ball on a pass from Charleston Southern back-up quarterback Kyle Copeland was picked off by Kenny Scott and the defensive back’s third interception of the year gave Liberty the ball back.
The tandem of Woodrum and Desmond Rice led the Flames down the field, taking advantage of the game’s second turnover to push the Flames’ advantage to 21-0 just before halftime.
Rice carried the ball four times to set up a first-and-goal play from the three-yard line after a seven-yard gain. Woodrum followed by completing his fourth-consecutive pass attempt of the eight-play, 48-yard drive, a three-yard strike to tight end Dexter Herman to put the Flames up three scores with 3:06 left before halftime.
The Flames nearly added to their lead during the waning minutes of the first half, following the game’s third turnover. Starting quarterback Danny Croghan moved the Buccaneers into Flames territory, but Kevin Fogg picked off his fourth pass of the year and ninth of his career to give Liberty the ball back.
Liberty was only able to advance the ball four yards on the next play and brought John Lunsford onto the field to try a 33-yard field goal. However, the sophomore’s kick sailed wide right to keep the score 21-0 at the break.
Liberty outgained the Buccaneers during the first half, 163 total offensive yards to 107, thanks to the arm of Woodrum and run game of Rice. Woodrum completed 13-of-18 passing attempts for 102 yards and two touchdowns, while Rice carried the ball nine times for 43 yards.
Charleston Southern gained 92 of its 107 first half yards on the ground, led by Christian Reyes’ seven carries for 41 yards. Croghan completed 3-of-11 passing attempts for 15 yards and was picked off twice. Copeland had both of his pass attempts during the first half intercepted.
The Buccaneers finally broke through for a score during the first drive of the second half. Following a 26-yard kickoff return by Darius Hammond, Mike Holloway took a pitch to the outside of the field and ran 58 yards to put Charleston Southern in scoring position. Two plays later, Copeland kept the ball on the option run play and scored from four yards out to trim the Flames’ lead to 21-7 just over a minute in the second half.
However, the Flames responded with a seven-play, 78-yard scoring drive, moving its margin back to 21 points, 28-7, at the 9:07 mark of the third quarter.
Following a pass interference call in the endzone, Charleston Southern’s 11th penalty of the game, Rice scored from two yards out, recording his 15th rushing touchdown of the season to cap off the scoring effort.
The Flames cemented the victory with two more scores on their next two drives. Woodrum was a perfect 5-of-5 on an eight-play, 60-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a five-yard rushing touchdown by Clifton Richardson at the 3:01 mark of the third quarter.
On the next drive, Hagen intercepted his second pass of the game and sixth of the season to give Liberty the ball back. Three plays later, Rice leaped over a pile of players to score from one yard out, pushing Liberty’s lead to 42-7 with six seconds left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter saw the Flames score twice more and Charleston Southern get into the endzone for the second time on the day.
Liberty’s scores came on a six-yard touchdown pass from Woodrum to tight end Peter Gagliardi at the 10:18, while D.J. Abnar completed a six-play, 84-yard scoring drive with a 35-yard touchdown run with 4:53 left in the contest.
Charleston Southern’s final score of the game came when Copeland found Donte Sumpter open in the flat and the wide receiver scored from 42 yards out at 8:43 of the final quarter.
The Flames outgained the Buccaneers on the day by nearly 200 total offensive yards, posting its sixth 400-yard game of the season (448 yards) to Charleston Southern’s 249 yards.
Liberty took a trick out of Charleston Southern’s play book to win the game. The Buccaneers came into the game leading the country in average time of possession (34:48). Liberty won the time of possession battle for the eighth-straight game (39:01 to 20:59).
The Flames used an even mixture of their rushing (182 yards) and passing (202 yards) attack to easily move the ball down the field.
Rice was Liberty’s leading ground gainer, rushing 21 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns. The junior’s two scores moved him into second place on Liberty’s season top five rushing touchdown list with 16.
Woodrum completed 23-of-28 passing attempts for 239 yards and recorded his third three-touchdown game of the year. The sophomore also rushed five times for 40 yards and added his fifth rushing touchdown of the year.
Eleven different players finished the game with receptions for Liberty, paced by junior wide receiver Gabe Henderson’s five catches for 55 yards.
Holloway paced Charleston Southern’s rushing game with four carries for 73 yards, mostly gained on its 58-yard early second half rushing play.
Liberty’s defense, which entered the day ranked No. 13 in the country with 15 interceptions, picked off four passes. Crogran finished the day for Charleston Southern 5-of-13 with one interception and 17 passing yards. Copeland was 1-of-6 for 42 yards and threw the other three interceptions.
Walt Aikens was Liberty’s leading tackler, finishing the game with eight tackles, all solo stops. Kenny Scott, who had one of Liberty’s four interceptions, followed with five tackles.
Hagen was Liberty’s defensive standout, picking off two passes on the day to give him six interceptions on the year. He also added two solo tackles.
Charleston Southern’s leading tackler was Eli Lee, who finished the contest with 10 tackles, followed by a nine-tackle effort from Matt Hardy.
Both teams will now look to the NCAA FCS Playoff selection committee’s decision regarding an at-large bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs. By virtue of Liberty’s victory today, Coastal Carolina claimed the Big South’s automatic bid to the playoffs with its victory over Liberty.
The NCAA FCS Playoff field will be announced on the NCAA FCS Playoff Selection show tomorrow on ESPNU at 11:30 a.m.