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Flames upset No. 6 Seawolves to keep Big South title hopes alive
No one gave the Flames a fighting chance against Stony Brook. With a senior-laden cast of players busy rewriting the record books, Saturday’s game was supposed to cap the end of one of the most successful seasons in Stony Brook history.
But Liberty stamped out Stony Brook’s hopes of an automatic playoff berth and finished its own home schedule with an exclamation point.
Led by a ball-hungry defense that played its most dominant game of the season, Liberty took the lead in the beginning of the second quarter and never looked back on its way to a 28-14 victory. No. 6 Stony Brook is the highest-ranked opponent the Flames have ever beaten.
“I’m proud to have an opportunity to be a part of it,” Head Coach Turner Gill said about the historic win. “This is one major step that is going to help us to continue to move forward.”
The floor in the media room was literally shaking after the game as players on the other side of the wall celebrated what many called the greatest game of their careers.
“Best win I’ve ever played in,” senior center Aaron Lundy said. “I would venture to say that it’s probably the best win at Liberty University, all-time.”
“This is probably the biggest win I’ve ever had in my football career,” senior nose guard and captain Bryant Lewellyn said. “Stony Brook was ranked No. 6 this week. We didn’t really pay attention to that. … We were coming in, getting ready to go, saying, ‘We are going to beat these guys. … We’ve never lost a home conference game in my five years here, and we’re not going to do it tonight.’”
Liberty has played exceptionally well at Williams Stadium in recent years. The win over Stony Brook extends Liberty’s home winning streak in conference play to 18 games.
Not many could have predicted the victory, and even fewer could have predicted how Liberty would win it.
After struggling to earn takeaways throughout the first half of the season, the Flames defense forced five against Stony Brook, equaling their total from the first nine games combined. The secondary more than doubled its season interception total, earning four Saturday.
“Everybody was saying that (the turnovers) were going to come all at once,” Gill said. “This was the right game for them to come.”
Liberty’s defense muzzled the Seawolves prolific running game, allowing only 156 yards on the ground — half of Stony Brook’s season average. Senior running back Miguel Maysonet, the Big South’s all-time touchdown leader, was held to a 2.8-yard carry average — more than five yards shy of his season average. The Flames defense was also superior on third down, allowing only five first downs out of 13 third downs all night.
“We call it the money down,” Lewellyn said. “That’s what makes your money — getting off the field on third down.”
Maysonet began the day with a one-yard touchdown run, scoring the Seawolves only points in the first half. Liberty responded in the second quarter on a 49-yard scoring throw from Brian Hudson to Desmond Rice. Hudson, who lost the starting quarterback job earlier in the season after an injury, has worked his way back into the offense, taking several snaps a game in the wildcat formation.
“I guess they were thinking run because usually I’m in there to run,” Hudson said. “The corner bit and the safety was nowhere in sight. It just worked out like we planned it to.”
During the next series for Liberty, Woodrum connected with Pat Kelly on a 67-yard pass, followed by a penalty setting up the Flames inside the red zone at the four yard line. Hudson’s number was called again. He scored his second touchdown in as many plays, running it in himself to give the Flames a 14-7 lead. Liberty would not lose the lead for the remainder of the contest.
“For us being able to lead most of the game takes a little bit of the pressure off,” Lundy said. “But at the same time, you have that mentality where you want to put your foot on their throat and keep gaining a lead.”
Yet, what Lundy probably did not expect was that it would be the defense that would be stepping on Stony Brook’s throat for the rest of the evening and scoring the remainder of the Flames points.
The Flames were able to preserve their halftime lead when safety Brent Vinson intercepted a pass at the Liberty three yard line. His interception triggered the start of a miserable second half of play for Stony Brook quarterback Kyle Essington.
Five minutes into the second half, Essington threw to the wrong-colored jersey again, into the waiting arms of linebacker Nick Sigmon, who returned the pick 21 yards for a touchdown. Sigmon finished the evening with a team-high nine tackles, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble to go with his interception. Gill was full of praise for Sigmon’s play around the ball.
“Nick Sigmon played a heck of a ball game,” Gill said. “He had some great hands. I may put him on offense now, you never know.”
Two Stony Brook possessions later, Essington threw another interception, with the third of the night going in the direction of safety Jacob Hagen.
Stony Brook did add one more score, a 13-yard run by Maysonet that brought the score to 21-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. \
The next Stony Brook drive ended with another defensive touchdown for Liberty. Sigmon forced a fumble by Maysonet that was picked up by Hagen, who ran 44 yards to the end zone.
With the game already out of reach for Stony Brook, Essington added insult to injury, throwing a fourth interception, this time to Liberty’s Scott Hyland.
With one game to go, Liberty has renewed hope for a conference title. A win over Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Nov. 17 will guarantee the Flames at least a share of the Big South title. The Flames can claim the whole title with a win and a Coastal Carolina loss to Charleston Southern University.
“If God kind of opens the door for Coastal to lose, that would be great. If not, it certainly has been a fun four years,” Pat Kelly said.