Nov 10, 2009

Keydets turn over victory

by Jordan LoSasso

A Big South team defeating Liberty is a daunting task, but completing the upset after committing eight turnovers is impossible, and it leads to a 54-14 outcome that would otherwise be a competitive game between the Flames and the VMI Keydets.

Two fumbles in the red zone for VMI and an interception returned for a touchdown by Liberty senior linebacker Ian Childress turned a close game into what would become yet another Big South blowout for Liberty.

“I do not think the score is at all indicative of the style of play. We did not shut this offense down, we did not necessarily control the tempo of the game, and we did not necessarily put a stranglehold on their football team. But we were opportunistic and when the ball was on the ground we got it, and we made some big plays to secure a victory,” Head Coach Danny Rocco said.

VMI made plays early, scoring on the games opening drive to take the 7-0 lead. Quarterback Kyle Hughes completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide open Mario Scott after Liberty safety Chris Rocco slipped in coverage. Liberty responded on the ensuing kickoff on Aaron Hewlett’s 80-yard touchdown return.

“It was huge. You hate to play from behind. You hate to play up hill, especially against a team like VMI that’s capable of controlling the football, so it really was huge,” Coach Rocco said.

With the score tied at 7-7, the Keydets had an opportunity to make a statement and drove 48 yards to the Liberty 13-yard line. Running back Howard Abegesah coughed up VMI’s chance at another score and Chris Rocco recovered the fumble.

Down 10-7,after the Flames capitalized on the turnover with a Matt Bevin field goal, defensive end Terry Adams forced the second red zone fumble to hold onto the three-point lead.
VMI’s next possession resulted in a touchdown — for Liberty. Childress recognized what he thought looked like a wide receiver screen and “a nice gift” deflected into his hands that he was able to return for the game-winning touchdown and the 17-7 lead.

“When you have a chance to score on defense and in the kicking game, those are the kind of things that break their back, and obviously it did tonight,” Coach Rocco said.

Liberty piled on one more touchdown before the half, highlighted by a 15-yard rush by quarterback Tommy Beecher to the 3-yard line. The touchdown saving tackle for VMI sent Beecher flipping through the air, plopping him to the ground before he could score. Mike Brown finished the drive with a 3-yard rush into the end zone.

“The guys are probably going to give me a hard time because I probably could of scored on it. I thought it was a pretty big play, and everyone seemed to get pumped up because I looked so graceful in the air,” Beecher joked.

VMI outgained Liberty in total yards for the first half 245 to 158 and was still in position for a comeback but instead handed Liberty the win, literally.

Despite hanging in the game with only a 27-14 deficit to start the fourth quarter, the Keydets spread the dreaded contagious turnover bug amongst the team when ball security was key. The Flames scored 27 points with the help of four turnovers by VMI.

Among the five scoring drives for Liberty in the quarter, only one was longer than 36 yards because of the great field position from the turnovers.

“They certainly take advantage of mistakes, and we made a bunch of them. I don’t know how good a game it could have been had we just not turned the ball over so much.” VMI Head Coach Sparky Woods said.

The plus-eight turnover margin catapulted Liberty into first place nationally in the category and improved their average to 2.2 turnovers a game, ahead of previous leader Southern University, who average 2.0 per game.

Coach Rocco recognized the potential threat VMI posed to Liberty.

“Those that had followed our workouts knew my mindset and intensity about this game. I was scared and concerned all day long. I was nervous today. I knew that they were capable (of controlling the football),” Rocco said.

Liberty’s defense was able to relieve some of that fear by playing at its best when it matters most according to Rocco — in the red zone — and fought hard the entire 60 minutes, even when they had a commanding lead.

“I told my kids all week this game is about taking the ball away and controlling the ball on offense. And secondly, it’s about fighting for 60 minutes. VMI never quits and keeps fighting, and I give my kids credit because we continued to do that tonight.”

Contact Jordan LoSasso at jlosasso@liberty.edu.

 


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