Oct 24, 2006

Liberty sputters in second, loses close one

by Steve Clark
Football coaches will say that football is a game of two halves.

Saturday’s game proved to be no different as Liberty University lost a heart-breaker to the Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb University, 27-24 on a field goal with five seconds left.

Aside from a couple of key turnovers and some missed connections in the passing game, Liberty’s first half was played as well as any team could hope.

Gardner-Webb’s offense could not establish a rhythm against the aggressive Liberty defense, which was led by the nine tackle and one sack effort of sophomore defensive back Ryan Greiser.

The Flames’ offense was led by the stellar running of starting running back Zach Terrell, who finished with 175 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the game.

Liberty had issues in its passing game, though, as there were several dropped balls that could have resulted in big plays.

Furthermore, penalties killed several scoring drives for Liberty, which could have gone up by two additional touchdowns save for two key holding penalties.

Nevertheless, the Flames managed to score 17 unanswered points in the half.

With a 17-0 lead at halftime, Head Coach Danny Rocco was pretty happy with most facets of the game, but felt his team still had plenty of work to do.

“We felt we had a great opportunity to put more points on the board,” said Rocco. “Obviously our defense played great in the first half. I told our guys coming out before the second half that we would see if we had that killer in-stinct.”

Unfortunately, the second half turned into a game of adjustments in which Gardner-Webb ultimately prevailed.

Coming out of halftime, Gardner-Webb quarterback Devin Campbell said, “We stopped ourselves in the first half, to tell you the truth, but I knew that if I played my game in the second half, we’d be all right.”

With Liberty not really generating consistent pressure up front, the Bulldogs were able to make a lot of big plays in their passing game, much of which was due to the play of the offensive line.

“All week we focused on their blitzes, and our O-line helped me get (really) comfortable as the game progressed. They did a great job,” Campbell said.

Of course, because the second half included a lot of big plays, it would be easy to just blame the secondary or the defensive line. Rocco, however, felt it was something different.

“As a team, we just don’t have that killer instinct yet. Gardner-Webb got in-sync in the second half and had guys step up and make plays,” Rocco said.

“We’re very disappointed, obviously. I told the guys after the game to not get discouraged, I’m not going anywhere, it’s a team effort and we gotta keep the faith. We feel in our hearts we’re going to get this done, we just have to believe in each other.”

When asked if he was concerned with that lack of killer instinct and penalties, Rocco said, “That’s been a constant with this football team. We’ve had a number of penalties over the past few games – we’re  just not executing the way we need to be.

“We’re working on it everyday. I can’t be out there doing it for them –  they’re growing (and) they’re learning, (but) we just need more guys to step up and play smarter.”

As they looked ahead to next week’s game, both Rocco and quarterback Brock Smith acknowledged there is a lot to do.

One area for sure that will be emphasized is the chemistry between Brock and his wide receivers.
“That’s something we have to take care of in practice. We’re still not in sync yet,” said Smith. “I’m not going to say what it is – it’s going to stay in the team – but it’s definitely a source of concern and something we’re going to work on.”

The Flames (3-4, 0-1) go on the road next week to face a very talented Coastal Carolina (5-2, 1-0) squad. Liberty also hopes to get Rashad Jen-nings back to full speed.

“Although we didn’t get the victory today, we really played together as a team – and that’s one of our strengths, our team unity,” said Rocco. “We’re so close to turning this around.…I can tell you this, there is nobody in that locker room that feels like we’re not going to turn this around.

“Today was just an example of two teams with a lot of respect for each other who played their hearts out.…Gardner Webb just made a few more plays than we did. There’s a lot to build on here and learn from. We’re hoping for a good week of practice.”

Contact Steve Clark at sclark2@liberty.edu.

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