Liberty’s 26-12 victory keeps them in the hunt for a share of the Big South Conference title
After a disappointing loss to rival Coastal Carolina last week, the Flames bounced back with a solid outing against the Charleston Southern University (CSU) Buccaneers, winning 26-12 to keep their slim hopes of a Big South title alive for another week.
For the Flames, the key moment of the game may have been a decision made before kickoff.
Usually one to defer to the second half when he wins a coin toss, Head Coach Turner Gill elected to take the ball first when the Flames won the toss, and his aggressiveness paid off.
“I thought it would be advantageous for us to have the ball first,” Gill said. “I thought we had a good game plan in the first series or two as far as our plays that we had called and wanted to try to get an opportunity to get out in front and get a lead on these guys.”
Senior running back Aldreakis Allen gave the Flames that advantage, putting Liberty on the scoreboard early with a 35-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the game, and the Flames never looked back.
CSU’s offense, made up of a power running game and no notable aerial attack, was ill-equipped to play a game from behind.
“Anytime you go into a game, you want to start fast,” center Aaron Lundy said.
“Anytime you can develop momentum, that’s a huge thing. It’s a goal of ours to start fast. … First drive of the game, you want to start with a touchdown.”
It was a banner day for the offensive line, which paved the way for over 300 yards of offense on the ground and for the second time this season, did not allow a sack.
“Our goal is 200 yards rushing and no sacks,” Lundy said of the offensive line.
“Anytime you can rush for over 200 yards and develop some momentum is a huge thing. As you run the ball, it takes the pressure off the quarterback and receivers and helps them open up the passing game going downfield.”
The first half of action could be summed up in three plays: Aldreakis Allen’s two long touchdown runs and the Bucs’ lone significant passing play, a 41-yard touchdown pass on a well-timed misdirection play to wide receiver Kirby Broome.
The first 30 minutes, both offenses moved up and down the field almost exclusively via the running game. Liberty compiled 190 yards on the ground before halftime, with Aldreakis Allen earning 99 of the yards. Nintey-one of those yards came on two touchdowns. Allen’s runs gave the Flames a 13-6 lead at the half.
Redshirt freshman fullback Nicky Fualaau scored his third touchdown of the year at the beginning of the second half on a five-yard reception, putting the Flames up 20-6.
Minutes later, Allen scored his third touchdown of the game, bursting up the middle for a 30-yard score. Allen finished the night with 179 yards on a 9.4-yard per carry average — his second highest total of the year.
“I thought Allen ran hard. I thought he had good vision, and he made good cuts,” Gill said.
For Allen, the success of the running game was two-fold heading into a key contest next week.
“The line knows that if I can see the hole, I’m going to take it,” Allen said. “(Tonight) is a very big confidence booster for me, and also, I know it is for the line.”
In spite of playing behind for the entire contest, the Bucs’ one-dimensional offense remained committed to running the ball. CSU managed one more score in the fourth quarter to push the final score to 26-12.
It is hard not to underscore the role the Flames defense had in the victory.
“The defense did a great job holding them down as far as their rushing attack,” Gill said.
After averaging an astonishing 329 yards on the ground in a three-game winning streak coming into the contest against Liberty, the Flames defense held CSU’s offense to a mere 306 yards Saturday. The win was Liberty’s seventh straight over CSU and gives Liberty an 18-2 lead in the overall series.
Looking ahead, Liberty hosts Stony Brook University next Saturday, Nov. 10, in a game that may decide the winner of the Big South Conference. Stony Brook is undefeated in conference play, and Liberty and Coastal both have only one loss. Liberty can force a three-way tie with an upset over Stony Brook and a win over Virginia Military Institute the following week.