The Liberty Flames were firing on all cylinders as they closed their home season with a 73-34 thrashing of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Keydets at Williams Stadium on Saturday. The 73 points was the second highest total ever scored by a Liberty team, and the combined 107 points between the two teams also tied a Big South conference record.
Junior quarterback Brock Smith was efficient through the air again, completing 11 of 14 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think the biggest thing that I’m noticing is poise, confidence and leadership,” Head Coach Danny Rocco said of his emerging quarterback. “For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I really see him being the leader I thought he could be and hoped that he would become.”
The rushing attack was once again fierce as juniors Zach Terrell and Rashad Jennings rushed for 83 and 78 yards, respectively. Both players surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for their careers as well as scoring a combined four times in the victory.
Junior Dominic Bolden returned the opening kickoff to the VMI 11-yard line, setting up Liberty’s first points of the afternoon on a Noah Greenbaum field goal. On their next drive, Terrell took advantage of over-pursuit by the VMI defense on a reverse and rumbled forward for 53 yards. Four plays later, the Liberty offense spread the field with five wide receivers on third-and-goal, and Smith hit senior wide receiver Brandon Turner on a slant for the touchdown, putting the Flames up by 10.
After the Flames defense forced a third consecutive punt, Smith executed the play action as the secondary approached the line of scrimmage looking to defend the run. Bolden had a wide open path down the middle of the field as he scampered into the end zone for the 52-yard touchdown.
“I thought ‘Wow, I better not miss this ball,’ and I just set my feet and threw it at him,” said Smith.
Liberty scored its third consecutive touchdown on a keeper by Smith, putting the Flames ahead by 24.
VMI needed only 24 yards to put up its first score of the afternoon. The point after was blocked, however, and Liberty led the game 24-6.
The Liberty offense responded quickly by marching 52 yards on six plays during a drive in which Terrell and Jennings tallied all offensive yardage. The final play was a 10-yard rush by Jennings that resulted in his first touchdown of the day. Their next scoring drive came courtesy of a fumble by VMI quarterback Kyle Hughes that was returned just inside the red zone to the VMI 17. Bolden eventually found the end zone on a screen pass from 10 yards out.
“As a quarterback, you just go through your reads and do your job,” Smith said.
After the Keydets engineered a six-play, 63-yard drive capped by a 33-yard touchdown pass by Hughes, Bolden found his way to the end zone again as he returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for the touchdown, putting the Flames ahead 45-14.
Liberty entered the second half with a 45-28 lead as the Keydet offense looked to bring the game within striking distance after reeling off 14 unanswered points.
“VMI fought hard — I knew that they would,” said Rocco. “At the end of the first half they found a way to gain some momentum and really get back into the football game.”
VMI’s next drive stalled when Hughes fumbled the ball inside Liberty territory, and it was recovered by the Flames at the 36-yard line.
The Flames overcame two fumbles and penalties to score on Jennings’ four-yard run, giving him his fifth straight multi-touchdown game, tying him for the Big South record. On the score, Liberty also set a single-season record in points scored in a season and became the first team to have two 50-point games against conference opponents in Big South history.
The Flames defense tightened up once again, forcing an errant throw by Hughes which was intercepted by redshirt junior Kent Hicks and returned to the VMI 14-yard line. Three plays later, Jennings set the single-season rushing touchdown record with 15 while adding to the Flames lead.
After the defense forced another VMI punt, redshirt junior Jonathan Crawford returned the kick 65 yards for the score, set up by a punishing block from Hicks.
Liberty’s next possession was an effective nine-play, 56-yard drive resulting in a Terrell touchdown, his 15th straight game in which he has found the end zone. His run gave the Flames 73 points, and although the Keydets tacked on another late touchdown, the Flames rolled on to victory.
“For a while it really was a bizarre game in terms of how the big plays were going back and forth,” said Rocco.
The win caps off a 2007 home campaign in which the Flames were a perfect 6-0 for the first time in school history. They will have the opportunity to capture the Big South Championship when they face Gardner-Webb on the road this Saturday at 1 p.m. Coach Rocco feels confident in his team’s opportunity.
“I think we put ourselves in a great position right now to go down to Gardner-Webb next week with a lot of confidence.”
Contact Thomas Lourdeau at firstname.lastname@example.org.