Nov 18, 2008

TWICE AS NICE: Flames defend Big South title, eye playoff berth

by Natalie Lozano

The 2008 Big South Conference (BSC) Champions celebrated more than just their title after a 30-10 victory over the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs on Saturday night. The win raises the stakes of the Flames’ (9-2) game next week against Elon (8-3), as both teams vie for a chance at postseason play.

The game began slowly with two-scoreless possessions before Sophomore kicker Ben Shipps put Liberty on the scoreboard with just under five minutes to play in the first quarter.

Senior Gardner-Webb quarterback Devin Campbell was two-for-five and was sacked by senior Ian Childress and junior Tim “Torpedo” Torrence during Gardner-Webb’s first possession.

In the second quarter, Liberty flexed its offensive muscles, scoring touchdowns on three drives, including seven points secured after an interception by junior Wes Cheek.

For Gardner-Webb, the first points of the half came via a 32-yard field goal off the foot of Ryan Gates.

For the first time this season, there were no penalties for either team in the first half. The lack of yellow flags kept the clock running and the game time under three hours.

The third quarter began with a 3:45 drive by Gardner-Webb that ended when Torrence landed his second sack of the night. The 165-pound cornerback took down Campbell who has eight inches and is 42 pounds heavier than Torrence.
“I like the challenge,” Torrence said of the trying to sack the much bigger quarterback.

Senior Rashad Jennings was injured in the fifth minute of the third quarter after gaining Liberty’s 12th first down of the game.
During Liberty’s first full drive without Jennings, seniors Zach Terrell and quarterback Brock Smith shared the rushing role, with Terrell moving the ball for a net gain of 19 yards. Smith doubled his previous rushing record with a single run from Gardner-Webb’s 44 to its four. Unfortunately, Liberty lost possession the next play on a fumble that was recovered by senior Daniel Cooke.

The bulldogs were held scoreless in the third, although it was statistically Campbell’s best with a passing rate of 10 for 11 and 83 yards.

Liberty gained three points off Matt Bevins’ 42-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Liberty’s final three points were put on the board by Shipps. Sophomore running back Patrick Hall rushed the last yard of the drive to secure Gardner-Webb’s only touchdown.

Junior Chris Rocco, who was responsible for Liberty’s two fumble recoveries, said the best moment of the game occurred “when (cornerback) Kent (Hicks) got the interception right at the end of the game.”

Hicks snagged Campbell’s pass in the end zone for the only touchback of the game.

Liberty finished conference play as the first team in league history to achieve a 5-0 mark in conference play. Next week, Liberty plays its most significant game against Elon University as both teams vie for a spot in the FCS playoffs.

“We have to practice with more intensity and more focus,” Chris Rocco said.

The team realizes what is on the line next week.

“We know that they (Elon) want to win just as bad as we do,” senior Dominic Bolden said.

The Flames have come a long way since the seniors began their career in 2005 with a 1-10 season.

The turn around is due in large part to leaders like quarterback Brock Smith, tailbacks Jennings and Terrell and wide receiver Dominic Bolden, not to mention the effects the coaching has had.

“I think these 22 seniors that we have are trying real hard to go down in history as one of the most successful, if not the most successful, in Liberty history,” Rocco said.

Because Liberty has come such a long way in a short time, critics maintain doubts that the Flames are able to compete against teams like Youngstown State and Elon. The players, however, exude more confidence.

“We’re ready to prove to everybody that we’re a top team,” Terrell said.

Winning against Elon may serve as proof that Liberty is “a top team,” but it could also serve as a stepping stone to the playoffs.

“Last year we sat here at 8-3 and we were told if we would have won one of those three losses, we would have been in,” Rocco said.

“We are going to have to be at our best (next week), but I think our body of work will be impressive enough to get us in.”

Although the Flames were acknowledged as the Big South Conference champions last week after defeating VMI, they earned the distinction of becoming the only Big South team to hold a 5-0 conference record after beating the Bulldogs. After the game ended the team was awarded their Big South trophies, celebrating on the field after the clock ran out.

The crowd of 10,636 broke an 11-game, sell-out streak that Liberty has maintained since last season, and the thundersticks did give Williams Stadium a filled effect.

The Flames will finish out their season against Elon in a matinee contest at Williams Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.


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