Nov 7, 2006
Impressive defense sparks Flames win
by Dave Thompson
In an impressive show of strength, Liberty’s defense showed on Saturday why it was ranked sixth in Division I-AA earlier this season.
Coming home to a crowd of 8,286 fans after suffering four straight losses, three by a total of six points, Head Coach Danny Rocco and the Flames badly needed a win.
That win came in the form of Liberty’s third defensive shutout of the season as the Flames roughed up quarterback Spencer Landis and Western Carolina’s offense.
The scoring began early in the game for the Flames. Liberty running back Rashad Jennings scored an early touchdown on the Flames second drive of the game, but the Catamounts were poised to strike back just as quickly.
On Western Carolina’s third drive, Landis pitched the ball to running back Darius Fudge, who proceeded to run 22 yards downfield to Liberty’s 33-yard line.
However, Fudge fumbled the ball into the hands of Flames linebacker Brandon Duke.
“It felt great,” said Duke. “It might have been their biggest run of the day…and for them to have a big play on offense, [for us] to turn it into a big play on defense, that’s a momentum play.”
The momentum of the game certainly stayed with the Flames. Nevertheless, not including touchdowns, the teams had strikingly similar offensive numbers. Though Liberty exited the first half up 14-0, the display was by no means overwhelming.
“I was really disappointed at halftime,” Rocco said. “We just didn’t really play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Quarterback Brock Smith echoed the sentiment, saying of his passing, “It was satisfactory, but it (could have been) better.”
Smith had only 11 completions out of his 20 passing attempts, with one touchdown and one interception.
Fortunately for the Flames, the interception, which occurred in Western Carolina’s end zone, came late in the game with Liberty already leading 21-0.
Flames wide receiver Brandon Turner had a breakout day on offense. He caught seven passes for 101 yards, including Smith’s lone touchdown.
“We just had to come out and really establish the offense,” said Turner. “We know the time will come…when we’ll need to pass the ball (and) we won’t always have to look for the run.”
Indeed, Western Carolina did an admirable job of slowing down Liberty’s running game, which has been the backbone of the Flames offense this season.
Running back Zach Terrell managed 105 total yards, including one touchdown.
Sophomore powerhouse Jennings, who is just coming off an injury, was targeted and bottled up once again, rushing for only 38 yards but still managing to get one of Liberty’s three touchdowns.
In spite of the aggressive Flames defensive line, Western Carolina’s offense was not without hope.
Fudge continued to prove himself a formidable opponent offensively. His numbers – even down to his #7 jersey— were nearly identical to Terrell’s, as he rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries. His longest was a 22-yard run that resulted in the early fumble.
“We were confident that this would be a very competitive game...even though we knew Liberty has a good football program,” said Western Carolina Head Coach Kent Briggs. “I thought we fought hard.”
“I knew (Liberty was) pretty good against the run… (and) the linebackers fill the gaps pretty well,” said Fudge, “[but] I was able to take advantage of a couple of creases.”
Senior linebacker and defensive captain Manny Rojas did not let his unit create many of those creases, as he once again shouldered the load by leading the team with 10 tackles, which was the 10th double-digit game of his career.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” said Rojas. “We knew (another shutout) would be a big step for us as a team.”
A shutout is always big news, and the Flames know something about big news.
Literally, the team is by a few points shy of having an 8-1 record, as all of the Flames’ losses save the 34-14 loss at Wake Forest — no. 18 in the latest Division-I AP poll — have been by single digits.
In wins, however, Rocco and his team know how to win big. The average margin of victory for the Flames this year is 25 points.
With a scoring defense ranked 15th in the country, the Flames look to keep this regained dominance at home against the 9-0 Buccaneers of Charleston Southern University.
“Hopefully, they come in 9-0 and we beat them,” said Rojas. “We’re looking to win it for everybody. We definitely want to go out with a bang.”
Contact Dave Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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