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Defense Shines Again in Victory over Keydets
Liberty's defense made its presence known again and nearly posted its second-consecutive shutout, guiding the Flames to a 17-7 victory over visiting VMI, Saturday afternoon, at Williams Stadium.
After blanking out Gardner-Webb last week, 24-0, Liberty came within seconds of posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time in program history. However, the visitors got on the scoreboard with an acrobatic touchdown catch from Samuel Patterson with 97 seconds left to prevent the shutout.
With the victory, Liberty ups its record to 5-4 on the year and 2-1 in Big South play. The loss was VMI's seventh in a row and drops the Keydets to 1-8 on the season and 0-4 during their final go-around in the Big South Conference.
The game was played in front of the eighth largest crowd in stadium history. The 18,334 fans in attendance for Military Appreciation Day were treated to a special halftime show that honored all branches of the armed forces.
After trading possessions to open the game, Liberty had the game's first scoring chance midway through the first quarter.
The Flames managed to get to the VMI 22-yard line when a deep pass intended for Gabe Henderson was batted down by Doug Moore on a third-and-eight play. John Lunsford was brought on to attempt a 39-yard field goal, but his kick missed to the left, keeping the game scoreless.
Neither team could muster much of an offensive threat during the remainder of the half, as the teams headed into the locker room without posting points on the scoreboard.
Both teams had chances to score, but both team's defenses recorded interceptions to the halt the scoring attempts. The home team had the final scoring opportunity of the first half, but Lunsford's attempt at a potential school record 56-yard field as time expired fell short of the crossbar.
The two teams combined for 253 yards of total offensive during the first half, with Liberty outgaining the visitors, 155 to 97.
Liberty gained most its yardage on the ground, rushing 19 times for 105 yards, while Josh Woodrum was 4-of-14 with 50 passing yards.
VMI was limited to 39 rushing yards on 16 carries, while A.J. Augustine finished the opening 30 minutes 9-of-16 with 58 passing yards.
The game's third turnover allowed Liberty to break the scoreless tie early in the third quarter. Liberty's defense pressured Augustine on the second play of the second half and Walt Aikens was able to record his third interception of the season off a tipped pass.
Woodrum completed his longest pass of the first three quarters of the game on a third-and-seven, hitting Henderson for 28 yards to get the Flames one yard from the end zone. Three plays later, Woodrum called his own number and was able to scramble for his third rushing touchdown of the year, putting the Flames up 7-0 with 9:45 left to play in the third quarter.
The score remained the same until the opening seconds of the fourth quarter when an eight-play, 75-yard drive stalled at the VMI nine-yard line. Lunsford came back on the field and successfully converted his seventh field goal of the year, a 27-yarder, to push Liberty's lead to 10-0 with 14:56 left to play in the game.
After Augustine was picked off for the third time on the day, Liberty was only able to move the ball 27 yards to the VMI 27-yard line. Lunsford came out for the fourth time on the afternoon, but missed his last attempts (44 yards) wide left.
Following a three-and-out series, Liberty kept the ball on the ground for six out of the next seven plays, including a 27-yard scamper to the far side of the field by Woodrum. The quarterback's longest career run pushed Liberty's lead to 17-0 with 4:12 left to play in the game.
Despite being sacked twice on the game's second-to-last drive, Augustine completed 5-of-7 passing attempts for 65 yards, including a 34-yard pass to Patterson at the 1:27 mark to break up the shutout.
Liberty outgained the visitors, 377 to 204 on the day, using an even balance of 187 rushing yards and 190 passing yards. The Keydets mainly moved the ball on the day through the air, passing for 135 yards and rushing for 69.
Woodrum won the quarterback battle, completing 13-of-26 passing attempts for 190 yards. Augustine was 16-of-30 for 135 yards and had the game's lone touchdown pass.
Desmond Rice led all rushers on the afternoon with 22 carries for 80 yards, while VMI's Derrick Ziglar led the Keydets with 13 carries for 58 yards.
Darrin Peterson posted his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the year, leading all Flames' receivers with nine catches for 118 yards. Augustine's top target on the day was Patterson, who finished the game with six receptions for 78 yards.
Besides posting his third interception of the year and seventh of his career, Aikens led the Flames with eight tackles (seven solo, one assisted). Nick Sigmon followed with six stops and his third career interception.
Ty Garvin was VMI's top stopper on the afternoon, finishing the game with nine tackles, followed by six stops from John Washington and Weston Reber.
The Flames will continue their three-game homestand next weekend when they host the Blue Hose of Presbyterian College. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Williams Stadium.
Presbyterian College will come into the game with 3-5 record and a 1-1 Big South mark. The Blue Hose had their two-game win streak snapped by No. 24/18 Charleston Southern, losing the Buccaneers at home, 27-16, earlier in the day.
VMI will play its final Big South football game in program history before it moves back to the Southern Conference next weekend when they host Gardner-Webb. Kickoff from Foster Stadium is slated for 1 p.m.