Liberty Gains Ground in Big South Race

From Liberty athletics:

LYNCHBURG, Va. - The Flames scored four of their five touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 231 yards en route to a 35-14 victory over Presbyterian College, Saturday afternoon, at Williams Stadium.

----------- To see the box score CLICK HERE ------------------

The victory, Liberty's third in a row, ups the Flames' overall record to 6-4 and 3-1 in Big South play. The loss, PC's second-consecutive setback, drops the Blue Hose to 3-6 on the season and 1-2 in league play.

The win also keeps the Flames in the hunt for their sixth Big South title in the last seven years. Earlier in the day, No. 18/16 Charleston Southern upended No. 5/3 Coastal Carolina, 31-26, at home, placing the Buccaneers in first place in the Big South at 3-0.

Liberty travels to Charleston, S.C., to face the Buccaneers (10-1) the last week of the regular season on Nov. 23.

The Flames scored on their opening drive of the game thanks to a pair of deep passes downfield by Josh Woodrum.

Following 20-yard completion to tight end Brandon Apon over the middle of the field, Woodrum found Darrin Peterson open in the far corner of the end zone. The wide receiver's team-leading sixth touchdown reception of the year, which went for 20 yards, gave Liberty the early 7-0 lead with 11:25 left in the first quarter.

The rest of the quarter saw the two teams turnover the ball over, each one time. Following PC's first drive, the Blue Hose punted to Kevin Fogg. The senior managed to return the kick six yards before Cannon Jordan forced the ball loose and Kenyon Brown jumped on the football.

The Blue Hose managed to drive into the Flames' red zone where they handed the ball off to Blake Roberts. The redshirt freshman got to the outside, but Jacob Hagen was able to jar the ball free from the running back's hands and Scott Hyland recovered the miscue.

The Flames took advantage of the opportunity, methodically moving the ball downfield. During the 18-play, 90-yard drive, Liberty converted on two third-down plays and a pair of fourth-down plays. The second fourth-down conversion saw Desmond Rice score his 10th rushing touchdown of the season from one yard out, pushing Liberty's lead to 14-0 with 11:11 left to play in the second quarter.

PC quickly responded, trimming the lead in half on the next drive, using the arm of freshman quarterback Heys McMath to move the ball down the field. He completed 4-of-5 passing attempts on the drive, including a nine-yard strike over the middle to tight end Joey Gilkey to cut the Flames' lead to seven, 14-7, with 6:52 left before the break.

The game's third turnover allowed Liberty to double its lead just seconds before halftime. On a third-and-seven play from the PC 44-yard line, McMath tried to get the Blue Hose into field goal range with a deep pass downfield, but Hagen recorded his second turnover caused of the game and third interception of the season to give the Flames the ball back with 49 seconds left to play.

A 44-yard return by Hagen gave Liberty the ball at the PC 33-yard line. Four plays later, Rice was handed the ball and the junior scored his second touchdown of the day from 14 yards out to push Liberty's lead to 14 points, 21-7, with 14 seconds left before halftime.

The Flames doubled up the Blue Hose during the first 30 minutes of play, outgaining PC, 236 total offensive yards to 116.

Liberty gained a majority of its yardage on the ground, rushing for 139 yards on 24 carries. Rice carried the bulk load, rushing 11 times for 60 yards and two scores. Woodrum finished the opening half 9-of-13 for 97 yards and a touchdown pass.

PC's first half yardage was evenly spread among its rushing (61 yards) and passing (55 yards). Demarcus Rouse led the Blue Hose on the ground, rushing six times for 24 yards. McMath matched Woodrum's 9-of-13 first half performance for 55 yards.

PC once again trimmed Liberty's lead back to a single score on the opening possession of the second half. The Blue Hose opened the third quarter with a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped by McMath's second scoring strike to Gilkey. The tight end's second nine-yard scoring reception at 8:03 cut the Flames' lead to 21-14.

The score remained the same until PC turned the ball over again, this time on downs. On a fourth-and-two play from their own 29-yard line, the Blue Hose elected to fake a punt, but JaRon Greene was able to tackle Jeremiah McKie to give Liberty the ball back.

The Flames kept the ball on the ground for the next five plays, including a six-yard scoring run by Rice up the middle to push Liberty's lead back to 14 points, 28-14, with 1:20 left to play in the third quarter.

Liberty's fifth and final score of the game was set up by a 45-yard deep pass by Woodrum, followed two plays later by a six-yard run by D.J. Abnar with 13:45 to play to seal the Flames' victory.

Liberty, who entered the game ranked No. 19 in the country with 22 rushing touchdowns, added four more to its 2013 total in its fifth victory in a row over PC.

The Flames rushed 47 times for 231 yards, marking their fourth 200-plus rushing performance of the season.

Rice was Liberty's offensive standout, carrying the ball 22 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns. The junior, who as now scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2013, became the ninth player in program history on the day with 10 or more rushing touchdowns in a season.

Abnar finished the game with 10 carries for 42 yards and a score, while Clifton Richardson rushed eight times for 42 yards.

Woodrum finished the game an efficient 13-of-17 with 147 passing yards and one touchdown. His top target on the day was Gabe Henderson, who had five receptions for 34 yards. Peterson, who scored Liberty's lone receiving touchdown, added three catches for 25 yards.

McMath, who started his fourth career game on the afternoon under center, completed 20-of-28 passing attempts for 153 yards and a touchdown.

Rouse was the Blue Hose's top rusher with eight carries for 27 yards, while LaQua Mayes finished the game with five rushing attempts for a team-best 29 rushing yards. PC finished the game with 91 team rushing marks and became the third-straight and fifth opponent overall the Flames have held below the 100 yard mark in 2013.

Hagen, who caused both PC turnovers on the day, led Liberty with nine tackles (six solo, three assisted), to go along with his interception and forced fumble. Followed defensive back Kenny Scott followed with six tackles to lead the Flames defensive effort.

Ed Britt led all defenders in the game with 11 tackles (six solo, five assisted), while Cory White followed behind with 10 stops (four solo, six assisted) for the Blue Hose.

The Flames will close out the home portion of their 2013 regular season schedule next Saturday when they host Brevard. The 3:30 p.m. contest at Williams Stadium will be Senior Day and wrap up a three-game homestand for Liberty.

Presbyterian College remains in Big South play next Saturday and will face Coastal Carolina following its upset setback to Charleston Southern earlier today. PC travels to Brooks Stadium in Conway, S.C., for the 1 p.m. contest on Saturday.


GAME NOTES (Courtesy of ABC 13)

-LU will now need Presbyterian to beat Coastal Carolina next weekend to have a more legitimate shot at making the FCS playoffs.

-Liberty had one drive in the second quarter that lasted 9 minutes and 21 minutes. It covered 90 yards on 18 plays and resulted in a touchdown. After the game coach Gill said, "It puts a smile on your face. For me it's like eating oat meal cookies. That's what I love." That may have been the most light-hearted comment in Gill's tenure at LU.

-LCA's Desmond Rice didn't think he was going to able to play against Prresbyterian. "I couldn't even walk and then I'm just in treatment day in and day out. As soon as I get here I'm in there. Before practice I'm in there. After practice I'm in there so the trainers did a great job of getting me prepared to play this week," he said.