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Game Day Central: St. Francis, Pa.
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Saturday game marks the beginning of the 38th season of Liberty football and the fifth campaign under head coach Danny Rocco. Liberty is coming off its third-straight Big South title season and fourth-consecutive winning season. St. Francis, Pa., posted a 2-9 record in 2009, but is now under the direction of first-year skipper Chris Villarrial.
The Past with the Red Flash
This afternoon's contest will mark the second meeting in the series between Liberty and St. Francis, Pa. In the inaugural match-up on Sept. 29, 2007, Liberty scored the first 42 points of the game and never looked back en route to a 68-10 victory over the visiting Red Flash inside Williams Stadium.
Familiar with the Red Flash
Despite a three-year gap between Saturday's meeting with the Red Flash and the one on Sept. 29, 2007, Liberty still has 10 members of its current squad that saw action that night inside Williams Stadium.
The 10-man list includes: Terry Adams, Patrick Bannon, Danny Broggin, Chad Brown, Kyle DeArmon, KaJuan Lee, Donald Manns, Kyle O'Donnell, Justin Vargas and Soeren Wendland. Bannon led the squad on the day, finishing the contest with seven tackles and two sacks (for a loss of 17 yards).
The Flames enter Saturday's match-up with St. Francis, Pa., having posted a 32-13 in four seasons under head coach Danny Rocco. The skipper has led the program to three-straight Big South titles, has been named Big South Coach of the Year three times and has been a national coach of the year candidate twice.
St. Francis, Pa., will begin a new era of football on Saturday, as Chris Villarrial became the 25th head coach of the Red Flash on Dec. 20, 2009. Villarrial is a former NFL All-Pro offensive lineman, who spent 11 seasons with the Chicago Bears (1996-2004) and the Buffalo Bills (2004-06).
City Stadium Flashback
Due to an extensive renovation project to Williams Stadium, Liberty moved Saturday's season-opening football game to Lynchburg City Stadium. The facility is no stranger to Liberty, as the Flames played all of their home games at City Stadium from the inception of the program in 1973 until Williams Stadium opened in 1989. During their 17-year stay at City Stadium, Liberty posted a 43-35-1 record on the historic grass gridiron.
Liberty last graced the grass surface of Lynchburg City Stadium on Oct. 7, 1989, when a late field goal lifted the Flames to an upset victory over No. 19 Eastern Illinois, 9-7. Two weeks later, Liberty returned to Lynchburg to open Williams Stadium with a 37-18 Homecoming victory over Towson State on Oct. 21.
In between the two home games, Liberty posted one of the program's more notable victories. The Flames stunned Eastern Michigan, 25-24, on Oct. 14, in Ypsilanti, Mich., for Liberty's first-ever victory over a FBS program (known as Division I-A at the time).
On a Streak at City Stadium
Liberty enters Saturday's match-up with St. Francis, Pa., riding a five-game winning streak inside of Lynchburg City Stadium. The Flames won their last two home games in 1988 and the first three played at City Stadium in 1989, before moving over to Williams Stadium midway through the year. The last time Liberty lost a game at City Stadium was on Oct. 22, 1988, when they dropped a heartbreaking 36-35 setback to No. 2 Western Illinois in its annual Homecoming contest.
When the Flames last battled at Lynchburg City Stadium, Liberty was under the direction of legendary head coach Sam Rutigliano. The Flames finished the 1989 season with a 7-3 mark during Rutigliano's inaugural campaign, starting an 11-year run that led to a program-coaching record 67 career wins.
Liberty is now under the direction of Danny Rocco, who is beginning his fifth year at the helm of the program. Rocco has led Liberty to new-found heights, as he already ranks third in program history with 32 victories in just four seasons.
Looking to Even the Record
Liberty had a five-game season-opening winning streak snapped last year, when the Flames dropped a hard-fought 33-20 contest to FBS powerhouse West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va. The 13-point setback marked the first season-opening loss under head coach Danny Rocco and dropped Liberty's all-time program season-opening record to 18-19.
Liberty comes into Saturday's game ranked No. 20 in the preseason FCS Coaches poll and No. 21 in the preseason Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 listing. This marks the first preseason Top 25 ranking for the program during the five-year tenure of head coach Danny Rocco.
A Rankings Review
Dating back to the second week of the 2008 season, Liberty has been ranked inside the Top 25 22 out of the last 30 weekly polls (including preseason and end of the year rankings). Following their victory over Glenville State on Sept. 6, 2008, Liberty jumped into the Top 25 at No. 25 and remained there the rest of the season. Liberty was in and out of the polls in 2009, as the Flames received a Top 25 billing in nine of the 13 polls released last season.
Three Times as Nice
Liberty became the second program in Big South Conference history to win three-straight Big South titles, when it captured a share of the conference crown in 2009.
Last year, the Flames shared the crown with Stony Brook, while winning the title outright in 2007 and 2008 and posting a 14-1 conference record during the span. Coastal Carolina accomplished the same feat, winning outright conference titles in 2004 and 2006 and a shared championship in 2005 (with Charleston Southern).
Best in the Big South
For the fourth-straight season, Liberty is predicted to win the Big South Conference title. Liberty finished atop the Big South Preseason Poll, earning 103 points in the annual ranking that is selected by the league's head coaches and a media panel. The Flames garnered 13 out of 15 first-place votes, while Stony Brook finished second in the listing with 81 points.
Brown is Back on Top
Mike Brown has been selected the Big South Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, as announced at Big South Football Media Day in July. The quarterback was the first sophomore in league history to be named Offensive Player of the Year, last season, when he finished second in the league with 11 total touchdowns (nine rushing and two receiving). Brown ranked second on the squad in rushing yards (442) and led the team with 698 receiving yards on 60 receptions.
Bending it with Bevins
Matt Bevins, a consensus first-team All-America kicker in 2009, finds himself atop most rankings coming into this 2010 season. The junior has been named to the Sports Network Preseason All-America first-team squad and to the 2010 Fred Mitchell Award watch list. Last year, Bevins set a new program and Big South Conference record by scoring 107 points. He ranked No. 1 in the country in field goals (2.00 per game) and No. 3 in scoring (9.73 points per game).
Big Time Prize
For the first time in league history, the winner of the Big South Conference will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA FCS Playoffs. In 2010, the NCAA FCS Playoffs will expand from 16 teams to 20 selections, creating an extra round of playoffs games to be contested during the opening weekend of Nov. 27.
Stony Brook is Staying
On Wednesday, the Big South Conference announced a contract extension with Stony Brook, keeping the associate member in the league for football for another four years. Stony Brook first joined the league in 2008 and its membership will extend through the 2015 season. In just two seasons, Stony Brook has posted an 9-3 Big South record and claimed a share of the Big South title in 2009 (4-2 in 2008 and 5-1 in 2009).
Getting Back on Track
Last year's season opener against West Virginia snapped a five-game winning streak for the Flames in season-opening contests. Liberty won its first three season openers under head coach Danny Rocco, plus the opening games in 2004 and 2005. Prior to the 33-20 setback to West Virginia to open the 2009 season, Liberty's last season-opening loss was a 48-6 loss to James Madison on the road to open the 2003 season (Aug. 30).
Defending Their Own House
Under head coach Danny Rocco, the Flames have won 21 out of 25 home games, meaning Liberty has won 84.0 percent of its home contests under the skipper, who is in his fifth year at the helm of the program. Liberty was 4-2 under Rocco at home in 2006, a perfect 6-0 in 2007, 5-1 under Rocco in 2008 and 5-1 on Liberty Mountain in 2009.
Oh What a Run
Head coach Danny Rocco enters the 2010 season having posted a 16-3 record against Big South teams since taking over the program in 2006. Liberty's three Big South losses under Rocco have come at a combined eight points. Liberty lost two Big South games during Rocco's first season, falling to Coastal Carolina (28-26/10-28-06) and Gardner-Webb (27-24/10-21-06), and dropped the 2009 season finale at Stony Brook (36-33/11-21/09).
Trying to be the First
Liberty enters the 2010 season trying to become the first program in Big South history to win four conference titles in a row. Coastal Carolina and Liberty have each won three-straight titles. The Chanticleers won outright titles in 2004 and 2006, while sharing the title with Charleston Southern in 2005. Liberty won outright titles in 2007 and 2008, before sharing the conference crown with Stony Brook, last season.
Under first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter, a younger Liberty squad surprised many around the country, as the Flames led all FCS program in scoring in 2009. Liberty finished the season with 400 points scored, which ranked No. 1 in the nation in FCS scoring offense (36.36). Liberty has reached the 400-point mark the last three years, including the 2007 season where they finished with a program-best 469 points scored.
Racking it Up for Rocco
Head coach Danny Rocco has brought a high-powered offense to Liberty, as the Flames have scored an average of 34.0 points per game since Rocco took over the program. The figure ranks 7.3 points per game ahead of the next highest scoring coach in program annals, as Sam Rutigliano's crew was able to score 26.7 points per game during his 11-year tenure.
Coach Avg. Points/Games
Danny Rocco 34.0 1,532/45
Sam Rutigliano 26.7 3,205/120
Rock Royer 24.2 145/6
Tom Dowling 20.9 1,524/73
Morgan Hout 20.8 1,040/50
Ken Karcher 20.6 1,382/67
John Cartwright 20.2 565/28
Running with the Flames
The Flames have been one of the nation's top FCS programs over the past eight seasons, as Liberty has ranked among the Top 30 rushing teams in the nation seven out of the last eight years. During the time span, the Flames have surpassed the 2,000-yard mark six out of eight years and have averaged 2,138 rushing yards per season. Last year, Liberty just missed the mark, rushing for 1,937 yards, but still managed to finish the year ranked No. 21 in the country in rushing offense (176.1 yards per game).
Ground Game Success
The Flames finished the 2009 season with 31 rushing touchdowns, falling just one scoring run shy of tying the 2007 team record of 32 rushing touchdowns. Liberty finished the year ranked No. 4 in the country in total rushing touchdowns. Only Appalachian State (45), FCS national champion Villanova (36) and McNeese State (34) finished the year with more rushing touchdowns than the Flames.
Last year, Liberty finished the season with an 8-3 record, marking their fourth-straight season with a winning record. The previous record was three-consecutive winning seasons from 1988-90 (1988 – last year under Morgan Hout, 1989-90 – first two years under Sam Rutigliano).
Liberty is coming off the best four-year span in program history, as last year's senior class finished their careers with a 32-13 overall record. The previous record for wins by a senior class was 27, recorded by the 1997 and 1998 classes, who both finished their days at Liberty with 27-17 overall records.
Coaching Greats Return
Three of Liberty's six former head coaches will be present at Liberty's game against St. Francis, Pa., on Saturday, honoring their connection to City Stadium. John Cartwright (1974-76), Tom Dowling (1977-83) and Morgan Hout (1984-88) will serve as honorary game captains with Cartwright scheduled to handle the coin toss before the contest begins.
A Decisive Number
The Flames' prolific offense in 2009 had Liberty atop the national statistical category, as the team led the nation in scoring offense (36.36 points per game). Liberty has had a Top 20 scoring offense the last three years, as the Flames ranked No. 19 in 2008 (33.67) and No. 3 in 2007 (42.64). The 30-point mark seems to be the key number for a Flames victory, as Liberty is 25-2 under head coach Danny Rocco when Liberty scores more than 30 points in a game. The Flames are 7-11 under Rocco when Liberty fails to reach the 30-point threshold.
Don't Forget About the "D"
Despite Liberty's gaudy offensive numbers over the past three seasons, the Flames' defense has played a significant factor in the team's success, bringing a smile to head coach Danny Rocco's face, as he is a 20-plus year defensive coaching veteran. Since 2006, Liberty has held its opponents to an average of 18.9 points per game, bolstered by Rocco's first season when the Flames allowed a program-record low 172 points (15.6 points per game, which ranked No. 12 nationally in scoring defense).
Two Touchdown Favorites
Since taking over the program in 2006, head coach Danny Rocco's Flames have outscored their opponents by an average of 15.1 points per game. Liberty has scored 1,532 points (34.0 average points per game), while allowing 851 points (18.9 average points allowed per game).
Demanding More Defense
Liberty's highly touted offensive schemes have caught regional and national attention during the last several seasons, but it is the play of the defense that brings a smile to head coach Danny Rocco's squad. Last year, the Flames finished the season ranked No. 24 in the country in scoring defense (19.09), marking the third time in four years under Rocco that Liberty has finished the year holding opponents to less than 20 points per game and ranked inside the Top 25 in the statistical category.
Packing Them In
Last year, Liberty finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country in home attendance, based upon filling stadium capacity. The Flames averaged 14,931 fans per home game in Williams Stadium which only seated 12,000 fans (124.43 percent). Liberty also ranked No. 8 total home attendance (89,587) and No. 12 in average home attendance.
A Nice Number
Coming into the 2009 season, Liberty had lost 70 percent of its players who were responsible for its scoring from the previous season (33.67 points per game, which ranked No. 17 in the country in scoring offense). This year, the numbers are almost reversed, as the Flames return 72 percent of the players who were responsible for producing the No. 1 scoring offense in the country in 2009 (36.36 points per game).
Winning in Style
Six of Liberty's eight wins last year were by sizable margins, as Liberty defeated Garner-Webb by 23 points (51-28), North Carolina Central by 25 points (35-10), Presbyterian by 36 points (55-19), West Virginia Wesleyan by 38 points (45-7), Coastal Carolina by 45 points (58-13) and VMI by 40 points (54-14). The victories give Liberty 15 wins under head coach Danny Rocco, where the Flames have won by 25 or more points, meaning 46.9 percent of Rocco's victories have been by a quarter-century margin or larger (15 out of 32).
Fifty is Nifty
Fans who attended Liberty's last three home games in 2009 saw an offensive explosion, as Liberty eclipsed the 50-point mark all three times and averaged 55.7 points per game. Liberty began the run with a 58-13 win over Coastal Carolina, followed by a 55-19 victory over Presbyterian and a 54-14 win over VMI. On Nov. 14, the Flames continued the trend, rolling up 51 points on the road at Gardner-Webb to give the Flames seven games under head coach Danny Rocco where the Flames have scored 50 or more points. The Flames also surpassed the 50-point mark against St. Francis, Pa., (68-10), Charleston Southern (50-10) and VMI (73-34), with all three of those games coming in 2007.
Eight Is Great
For the third-straight season, the Flames reached the eight-win plateau, as Liberty finished the 2009 season with an 8-3 overall record. The Flames finished the 2007 season at 8-3 and 2008 with a 10-2 mark. Liberty was one of 28 FCS programs in the nation who won eight games in 2009 and the recent run marks the first time in program history Liberty has won eight games in three-consecutive seasons.
Equally as Impressive
Liberty finished the 2009 season ranked No. 1 in scoring offense (36.36 points per game) and No. 24 in scoring defense (19.09 points per game). Liberty was one of eight FCS programs to finish the 2009 season ranked inside the Top 25 in both scoring offense and defense. The Flames were joined by: Elon, Jacksonville State, Northern Iowa, Richmond, South Carolina State, Southern Illinois and Villanova.
Moving Those Chains
One of the busiest crews on the field during a Danny Rocco coached football game is the "chain gang," as the Flames have ranked inside the Top 30 all four years in third-down conversion rate. Last year, the Flames finished the season ranked No. 22 (42.66 percent), while the 2008 team finished the year with a 50.98 conversion rate (which ranked No. 3 in the country). Under Rocco, Liberty has converted on 45.9 percent of third-down plays (257-of-562) over the last four seasons.
Liberty has found much success on fourth-down plays in 2009, converting on 7-of-10 fourth-down plays, which ranks No. 5 nationally in fourth-down conversion rate (70.0 percent). All seven successful fourth-down conversions eventually led to the Flames adding points to the scoreboard.
Home Turf Advantage
The Flames rushed for five touchdowns against Presbyterian last year, marking the fourth time in six home games the Flames tallied four or more rushing touchdowns. In six home games, the Flames managed to run for 24 of their 31 team rushing touchdowns (77.4 percent). Liberty scored single rushing touchdowns on the road against West Virginia, Lafayette and Charleston Southern, while scoring twice on the ground at Gardner-Webb and Stony Brook.
Over the Century Mark
With Liberty's six rushing touchdowns against Coastal Carolina on Oct. 17, 2009, Liberty moved over the century mark for rushing touchdowns under head coach Danny Rocco. During Rocco's 45 games as head coach on Liberty Mountain, the Flames have rushed for 115 touchdowns (2.56 rushing touchdowns per game), including 33 games with multiple rushing touchdowns.
A pair of scoring runs during Liberty's 2009 season finale, including a 70-yard burst by Mike Brown and a 12-yard run by SirChauncey Holloway, helped keep a streak alive for the Flames. Liberty has rushed for a touchdown in 40-straight games and in 43 out of 45 games under head coach Danny Rocco.
Getting Better and Better
For the last three years, Liberty has bettered its own school record in completion percentage. Last year, the Flames raised the new school standard to 68.06 percent, completing 211-of-310 passing attempts. Liberty finished the 2008 season with a 64.2 completion percentage and a 62.0 percentage in 2007. Only two other programs in FCS posted better completion percentages in 2009, as Stephen F. Austin led the nation (68.33) and Lafayette finished second (68.12).
Taking Better Care of the Ball
Since taking over the program in 2006, head coach Danny Rocco has tried to instill the importance of taking care of the football. Liberty has finished inside the Top 25 all four years under Rocco in turnover margin, led by the 2009 campaign, where the Flames led the country in turnover margin (+1.91). Liberty ranked No. 7 in 2007 (1.27), No. 20 in 2006 (0.55) and No. 21 (0.67) in 2008) in turnover margin.
Winning the Turnover Battle
West Virginia is one of eight teams to finish a game coached by Danny Rocco with fewer turnovers than the Flames, doing so during the 2009 season opener. Liberty turned the ball over once on an interception, while West Virginia never coughed the ball up. Since 2006, Liberty has a +50 turnover figure as compared to its opponents, as Liberty has committed 46 turnovers, while forcing 96 giveaways.
Liberty finished five games in 2009 without committing a turnover, doing so against Lafayette, Coastal Carolina, VMI and Gardner-Webb. Since Rocco took over the program in 2006, Liberty has finished 16 games (out of 45 total games) without committing a turnover.
Setting a New Standard
During a five-game stretch late in the year (Oct. 17 – Nov. 14), Liberty avoided throwing an interception to set a new school record for consecutive games without a picked off pass. Under head coach Danny Rocco, Liberty's quarterbacks have thrown just 23 interceptions in 45 games (0.51 per game).
Streeter Streamlines the Passers
Under quarterback coach and second-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter, Liberty has been one of the most effective passing units in the country. Since joining head coach Danny Rocco's staff, Streeter has seen his quarterbacks throw at a 63.5 completion percentage clip, completing 690-of-1,086 passing attempts for 8,807 yards and 58 touchdowns. During the span, Liberty has averaged 195.7 passing yards per game and has a passing efficiency rating of 145.04 since 2006.
A QB's Best Friend
Liberty finished the 2009 season allowing 15 sacks in 11 games, which ranked No. 25 in the country in sacks allowed (1.36 per game). The Flames have allowed less than a sack per game under head coach Danny Rocco (0.91/41 in 45 games) during the last four years and has finished 18 games without allowing a sack.
The Sack Attack
Liberty had its third multiple-sack game of 2009 in its home finale against Gardner-Webb, when the Flames finished the contest with two sacks for a loss of five total yards. The contest marked the 15th time Liberty has finished a Danny Rocco-coached football game with three or more sacks. Under Rocco, the Flames have averaged 1.77 sacks per game (80 total) for an average loss of 13.60 yards per game (612 total yards lost on sacks).
Red Zone Rapport
Liberty finished the 2009 season ranked No. 2 in the country in red zone offense, as the Flames found a way to add points to the scoreboard on 47 of 51 drives that reached the opponent's 20-yard line. Of Liberty's 51 trips inside its opponents' 20-yard line, Liberty scored 34 touchdowns (27 rushing/7 passing) and kicked 13 field goals. Since 2006, Liberty has added points to the scoreboard 84.3 percent of the time under head coach Danny Rocco (172-of-204 Red Zone opportunities) when penetrating the opponents' 20-yard line.
Tough Inside the 20
The score against the Flames inside their own red zone was a tough task in 2009, as Liberty ranked No. 9 in the country in red zone defense (66.7 percent). Opponents were only able to add points to the scoreboard on 24-of-36 drives that penetrated the Flames' 20-yard line, including nine times when Liberty's opponents had to settle for a field goal.