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Drenched with Gatorade by his players, Head Coach Tuner Gill walked from the sidelines with a smile on his face, shook the hand of Gardner-Webb Head Coach Ron Dickerson Jr. and joined in the celebration as the Liberty Flames defeated the Bulldogs 42-35.
For the Flames, it was their first victory this season, and for Gill, it was his first victory in 14 games. However, there could be a lot learned for the game played in front of the fifth largest crowd in Williams stadium history on Saturday.
One: never count the Flames down with their backs against the wall. Two: The Flames offense led by quarterback Josh Woodrum showed a deadly balance as the game progressed. And three: Never predict a score between winless teams.
The Flames finally won their first game in the Gill era, but the Bulldogs were no slouch.
Gardner-Webb offense hit on all cylinders for the first three quarters. Bulldogs quarterback Lucas Beatty had only one incompletion and threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. After a pooch kick that the Bulldogs recovered to begin the third quarter and later scored to take a commanding 28-10 lead, Williams Stadium was as quiet as it ever had been.
Students and former alumni looked on, stunned and disappointed.
However, the Flames never lost hope and went on to score 18 unanswered points — tying the game 28-28 before the third quarter ended. After the pouched kick and Bulldog touchdown, the Flames came alive on both sides of the ball. The offense began to click and started moving the ball down the field. After being pinned on their one-yard line, the Flames marched 99 yards in 10 plays to a touchdown.
Gill stressed that his defense needed to cause turnovers, and in that second half, his defense came away with a fumble and interception, both caused by defensive back Walt Aikens. During the second half, the Flames defense made Beatty and the Bulldogs offense look mortal as they only gave up 151 yards of offense.
Late in the fourth quarter, an Aikens interception, which helped set up the Flames game-winning drive, and the Aikens’ forced fumble and defensive lineman Bryant Lewllyen fumble recovery solidified a Flames win.
As the clock struck zero, a huge weight of needing to win was lifted off the team and fans’ shoulders.
ESPN anchor Chris Berman always murmurs this line when teams of any caliber play.
“That’s why they play the game.”
While the Flames were expected to blowout the Bulldogs, a victory is a victory, and any team will take a win any way it can.