Sep 19, 2006

Defensive struggle puts Flames on losing end against Towson

by Dave Thompson
Liberty opened up a three-week road trip with a hard-fought loss to Towson’s Tigers on Saturday.
The Flames put up another strong defensive showing, but it was not enough to overcome offensive problems brought on by an equally strong Towson defense. 

Liberty’s defensive effort was led by senior captain Manny Rojas, who had nine tackles, one sack, and two passes broken up. 

The Flames stayed strong through the first two quarters, holding the Tigers off the board, but Towson’s defense matched them in intensity and the teams entered halftime scoreless. 

In the end, Towson managed to edge out the Flames by a score of 10-3.

“I knew that they were a very solid football program,” said head coach Danny Rocco in last week’s Tuesday press conference. “When we put this [schedule] together, we knew this would be the first legitimate major test.”

The first sign of trouble for the Flames was the wall of Tigers that perpetually encircled sophomore running back Rashad Jennings. 

Jennings had rushed for 321 yards in Liberty’s last two games, all of them coming in the first half.
Towson clearly zeroed in on him, allowing Jennings a total of 27 rushing yards on 18 carries. “They did a great job of shutting down our running game,” said Rocco.

Adding to the Flames offensive woes was the inability of sophomore quarterback Brock Smith to put the ball into the hands of his receivers, connecting for only one pass out of six attempts during the first half. 

“Brock was not in sync early in this football game,” Rocco said, “so it did not give us any real confidence in going out there and trying to play the game differently.” 

Sophomore backup quarterback Zach Terrell, who came in during the second quarter and completed four out of his five passes, provided a small spark but could not get Liberty into the end zone.
The second half saw more action from the respective offenses, though it was by no means dominated by them. 

Towson opened up the third quarter with a 79-yard, 13-play drive that resulted in a touchdown and took 5:31 off the game clock.

Liberty moved quickly down the field on the following drive, assisted by two personal foul penalties on Towson. 

The first, a head shot to Brock Smith on a sack that would have dropped the Flames to 2nd and 18 on their 10-yard line, garnered Liberty a first down. Jen-nings then took three straight rushes, allowing the Flames to move the chains again.

On the next play, Smith passed the ball up the middle to Jennings, who took the ball out of bounds. However, a late hit by a Towson defender after Jen-nings stepped out of bounds moved the ball further down the field.

On Towson’s 46-yard line, the Flames offense stalled.

 
Smith threw two incomplete passes and was sacked, and Liberty faced two simultaneous penalties.
Forced to punt, Liberty’s defense came back out and the defensive struggle resumed.

Towson’s next drive marched them 78 yards down the field from their own 9-yard line, but they were unable to reach the end zone. 

Instead, they were forced to settle for a field goal, which extended their lead to 10-3.

“It’ll be a much closer contest….We’re going to have to perform and play well in the fourth quarter to win this game,” said Rocco on Tuesday.

His assumption proved correct on this day, but the team struggled to follow his thoughts, as the Flames’ final drive could have been their best offensive showing of the game. 

Punt returner Wynton Jackson’s return of 32 yards put Liberty at its 39. 

Smith then took the team down the field, completing three straight passes and coming within 11 yards of tying the game. 

Smith completed his next pass to junior Brandon Turner, who caught the ball at the 12, but coughed the ball up when Towson’s Tony Lumpkin hit him with 2:12 left on the game clock.

Towson sealed the win by working three running plays to bring the ball to their 25-yard line. The clock ran down, leaving the Tigers undefeated and handing Liberty its first loss of the season.

Despite Liberty’s lack of production and some headset problems which were never resolved, Rocco took responsibility for the loss. 

“We win and lose as a team… it should always come back to me,” he said.

Liberty, though no longer undefeated, has managed to keep its defensive effort stellar, now having allowed only 17 points in three games, an average of less than one touchdown per contest. 

Liberty (2-1) travels to Savannah State (0-2) Saturday for the second game of a three-week road trip.
 
 
Contact David Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.

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