The Liberty Flames (4-3) opened their Big South Conference play against Charleston Southern (3-4) on Saturday, earning a dominant 50-10 victory on the road.
The game featured five takeaways by the Flames defense and an offense that put up double-digit points in each of the four quarters (10, 10, 13 and 17 respectively) and did not turn the ball over once.
Junior quarterback Brock Smith completed 50 percent of his passes (11-22) with one touchdown and 195 yards. The Flames offense also mustered 283 yards on the ground, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Junior tailback Rashad Jennings led the ground assault with 131 yards and two touchdowns while junior Zach Terrell chipped in by rushing for 72 yards and two scores of his own.
Charleston Southern (CSU) struck first on their second play from scrimmage just two minutes into the game as quarterback Eli Byrd hit Dee Brown on a slant pass. After maneuvering his way past the Liberty secondary, Brown found his way to the end zone for the score.
Liberty answered immediately on their next drive, engineering an 11-play, 59-yard drive resulting in a 20-yard field goal from Nick Greenbaum.
On CSU’s next possession, Pat Cavalry picked off a Byrd pass and returned it to the Charleston Southern 29-yard line. Four plays later, Terrell rushed 16 yards for the touchdown, giving Liberty a 10-7 lead.
Charleston Southern soon answered with a field goal of its own, tying the score, and it looked as though the teams were locked into an even battle. However, Liberty steadily pulled away with 40 unanswered points.
Liberty put together an eight-play drive, resulting in a Jennings touchdown. On CSU’s next possession, the defense again disrupted a threatening offense when senior outside linebacker Vince Redd picked off Byrd at the Liberty 36-yard line and brought the ball back into Charleston Southern territory.
Liberty managed yet another lengthy drive before Greenbaum’s field goal attempt was blocked. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Greenbaum responded with a 33-yard field goal with 34 seconds left to put the Flames ahead 20-10 going into halftime.
The defense picked up where they left off in the second half, not allowing Charleston Southern to establish any rhythm on offense. Of the Buccaneers seven second half possessions, six resulted in a punt or turnover, the only exception being the final drive that ended as time expired.
Jennings scored his second touchdown of the night with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter as all of Liberty’s 57 yards on the drive came on the ground with rushes by Terrell, Jennings and Smith. However, the special teams suffered another blow as Greenbaum’s extra point attempt was blocked.
With Liberty leading 26-10, the offenses exchanged punts for much of the quarter before Charleston Southern wide receiver Markus Murry fumbled the ball on a reverse inside the CSU 20-yard line. Sophomore defensive linemen Trey Jacobs recovered the ball, giving the Liberty offense its best starting field position of the day.
Three plays later, Terrell rushed five yards up the middle for the score, putting the Flames ahead 33-10.
CSU responded by marching down the field on 12 plays, setting up third and goal at the Liberty five-yard line.
Junior quarterback Sidney Bryant hurled a pass to the end zone that was picked off by sophomore defensive back Chuck Duffy, who kneeled for the touchback.
“The last thing I told to Chuckie coming out of the locker room was that he had a great week of practice,” Rocco said, according to the News & Advance. “I’m really a believer in that if you practice well, you’re usually going to play pretty well.”
With the ball placed at their own 20 yard line, the Flames quickly moved downfield 80 yards in six plays, the last of which was a 19-yard completion by Smith to senior tight end Chris Luck.
“For a couple of seconds there, I couldn’t see the ball at all,” said Luck, according the News & Advance. “I looked up and saw it, then it faded away. Then I saw the ball at the very end and caught it.”
Liberty tacked on another field goal by Greenbaum, his third of the day, as well as a Terry Williams touchdown to put the Flames ahead by 40.
The Flames had 481 yards of total offense while allowing 319 and holding the Buccaneers to just 2.3 yards per carry. Sophomore defensive back Tim Torrence led the way defensively with seven tackles.
With the win, Liberty moves into a sole possession of first place in the Big South. The Flames return home this Saturday to face future Big South foe Presbyterian at 1 p.m. as part of the university’s Homecoming festivities.