Dec 5, 2006
Recapping the football season
by Jared Pierce, Asst. Sports Editor
The 2006 Flames football team boasts 14 First and Second Team All-Conference players. New head coach Danny Rocco is Big South Coach of the Year. His team finished the season on a three-game winning streak and tied for second in the Big South. These are all positives good recruiting coaches will use to build a solid program. However, these facts merely scratch the surface of the historic turnaround the Flames experienced. We now take a more in-depth look at some telling facts that shed light on the Flames’ 6-5 season.
Some Random Observations
A major difference between this season and last was Liberty’s ability to score more points in the first half. This forces teams to play from behind less and gives coaches the freedom to be more conservative with play calls. Consider last season’s 1-10 record. The Flames racked up only 64 first half points but managed 87 in the second half of those games. They lost only two of their last seven games by more than 14 points and three others by three points or fewer. Still, they lost those games. This season, the Flames more than doubled the amount of points scored in the first half with 156. The second half point total also rose to 103 points. Since 2002, Liberty has finished the season with three or more straight wins three times. Of course, during the other two seasons they finished with three or more straight losses.
Liberty’s offense scored 151 total points in 2005 and 259 in 2006, a more than100-point improvement with nearly the same players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Rocco and former head coach Ken Karcher share striking similarities. Both men are from Pennsylvania and each began his tenure at Liberty following losing seasons. Both transferred universities during their collegiate playing days — Karcher from Notre Dame to Tulane and Rocco from Penn State to Wake Forest. Both had NFL experience — Karcher as a backup quarterback and Rocco as an assistant coach. However, the Flames hope he does not repeat Karcher’s success, or lack thereof. Karcher posted a losing record, 3-9, in his first season at Liberty and an overall losing record throughout his six years.
Liberty finished with more wins than losses for the first time since 2004. Though it does not seem like much of an accomplishment, consider that since 1997, including this season, the Flames have finished with a .500 or better record only four times. Every winning season produced has been followed by a losing season.
On a Completely Separate Note
The Flames played three teams this season whose mascot was the Tigers – St. Paul’s, Savannah State and Towson. Western Carolina boasted another member of the cat family as well, the Catamount. There are far too many feline-oriented names roaming the mascot Serengeti. Granted, the Flames do not have the most impressive mascot on the planet (my personal favorite being the Michigan Wolverines, even if they are not named after the Marvel character), but it is unique.
Now, Some Positive Points
Liberty’s defense, led by All-Conference First Team linebacker Manny Rojas and All-Conference Second Team linebacker Stevie Ray Lloyd, showed vast improvement from a season ago. It allowed the fewest points per game in the entire Big South Conference (15) and allowed more than 30 points in a single game only twice, even winning one of the contests. In 2005, the Flames gave up 30 points or more six times and lost each game.
Junior Wynton Jackson finished third in the Big South with 1,159 all-purpose yards and earned himself First Team Big South honors as a kickoff specialist. Rocco will not be hurting for experienced players on offense next season. Aside from Jackson, the Flames return sophomores Brock Smith, who finished the year with 1,375 yards passing and seven touchdowns, and Big South All-Conference Second Team running back Zach Terrell. They also retain All-Conference Second Team wide receiver Brandon Turner, who posted 39 receptions for 504 yards and three touchdowns.
Perhaps the most glaring absence on offense will be All-Conference First Team lineman Stephen Sene and All-Conference Second Team lineman Jarrett Winfrey.
Some (Not So) Positive Points
Even though the Flames faced eventual ACC Champion Wake Forest, the combined record of the teams Liberty faced was 56-66. This is not the most impressive schedule in history, but do not fault the players or coaches for the lack of production from other teams.
They beat the less-than-stellar teams they were supposed to and lost tough, but close, games on the road to Towson (7-4) and Big South Conference Champion Coastal Carolina (10-1), which lost to #1 Appalachian State in the first round of the I-AA Tournament. Besides, every team needs an average schedule during a rebuilding year.
Liberty’s kicking game was woeful this season. The two kickers that were used combined to make only half of the 16 field goals they attempted. On PATs, Liberty made 30 and only missed four all season. These numbers by themselves are not that bad — however, the Flames lost three games by three points or fewer.
Will Rocco and the Flames repeat the same degree of improvement next season? It is impossible to tell, but careful examination shows that there is a higher chance of success than failure. The coaching staff certainly has plenty to sell to perspective recruits with a solid season, new football facility, the success of Sam Gado in the NFL and budding enrollment and exposure of the university as a whole. Due to losses on defense, next season’s record – 6-5.
Contact Jared Pierce at email@example.com.
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