Oct 31, 2006

Flames fall short to Coastal

by Dave Thompson
Liberty football hoped to avenge last week’s heartbreaking loss to Gardner-Webb against conference rival Coastal Carolina.

The Flames once again managed to jump out to an early lead but, just as they did last week, let it slip away late.

The momentum started out on Coastal Carolina’s side with running back Mike Tolbert’s 70-yard rushing touchdown on the second play of the game.

Liberty was in position to strike back, landing inside the Chanticleers’ 5-yard line after 11 plays, but Brock Smith’s pass attempt was picked off in the end zone by Quinton Teal and Coastal regained possession on its own 20.

Liberty’s defense then took over and forced Coastal to punt after only five plays. The Flames stormed back up the field and tied the game at 7-7 after an eight-play drive that took
4:22 off the clock.
Liberty looked to have a chance at more quick points after kicker Ben Beasley’s punt was fumbled on Coastal’s 31-yard line, but the Chanticleers recovered the fumble.

The teams resumed their tooth-and-nail battle, and neither scored again in the first half.
Liberty resumed its ball-control offense in the second half, crawling up the field on a 13-play, 44-yard drive that ate 6:55 off the game clock.

The Flames were unable to get past Coastal’s 14-yard line, and Smith was sacked for a loss at the 21, forcing the Flames to settle for a field goal that put them on top 10-7.

Liberty’s defense continued to look good on Coastal’s next drive. After gaining a quick first down, Coastal quarterback Tyler Thigpen went to the air, but his pass was intercepted by Liberty’s E.L. Estes, and the Flames took over from Coastal’s 39.

Unfortunately, the offense sputtered after a four-minute drive that ended at the Chanticleers’ 28-yard line. As a result, Liberty was forced to take another field goal.

Fortunately, the Flames did not suffer the same problems in the kicking game that they experienced last week. After the successful field goal, Liberty extended its lead to 13-7.

Until the fourth quarter, the Flames’ offense dominated time of possession, nearly doubling that of the opponents’ offense. Coastal quickly remedied the deficit with a lengthy drive of its own, gobbling up 78 yards in a 4:11 drive that ended the third quarter and began the fourth. The subsequent touchdown put Coastal on top 14-13.

Though not the nail in the coffin, the play shifted the momentum back to Coastal’s side. Liberty’s second Big South opponent of the year proceeded to score 21 points in the final quarter of the game. “The ability to score quickly was the difference,” said Head Coach Danny Rocco.

But the Flames would not roll over and play dead – not by a long shot. After a three-and-out possession and another scoring drive by the Chan-ticleers that put the game at 21-13, Liberty kick returner Dominic Bolden took Coastal’s kickoff at Liberty’s 7-yard-line and dashed all the way up the field for a 93-yard touchdown.

Then, in the first of what would be many yellow flags in the game’s last quarter, Bolden was called for a personal foul for excessive celebration. Bolden, in an effort to avoid two Coastal tacklers, had proceeded to dive into the end zone.

“I never would have thought they would have thrown a flag on that play,” said Rocco. “I really thought that he was off-balance, sprinting full speed.”

The penalty moved Liberty back to Coastal’s 18, and on the two-point conversion attempt, Smith’s pass fell incomplete, leaving the score at 21-19.

The Chanticleers scored again on their next drive, widening their lead to nine points. On the touchdown, Liberty’s Estes was called for a personal foul and ejected from the game. On Coastal’s PAT, two more Liberty players were called for personal fouls. However, Coastal was unable to take advantage of the penalties.

“We had way too many (penalties),” said Rocco.

The Flames were assisted on their next drive by two personal foul penalties called on the Chanticleers and quickly scored to keep within two points at 28-26. After the ensuing kickoff, Coastal looked to be in trouble on a fourth down situation. Thigpen, however, was able to put a pass through, giving the Chanticleers a first down. The first down was enough to run out the clock and seal the victory.

Despite Liberty’s fourth straight loss – a heartbreaker like the past two – some bright spots emerged. Brock Smith completed 11 of 17 passes for a 65 percent completion average on the game. The kicking game experienced few problems, going 2-2 on PAT’s and 2-3 on field goals. Also, for the second straight game, Zach Terrell filled in admirably for injured running back Rashad Jennings, gaining 123 yards overall.

The Flames return home this weekend to face the Western Carolina Catamounts at 1 p.m. “I really felt that we would be able to go out there and put together a better season,” said Rocco, “[…but] unity has to be the underlying force here.…If we stay united, we’ll win football games. If we don’t, we won’t.”

Contact Dave Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.

Photo by Alex Towers.

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