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Wolfpack Take Advantage of Flames' Miscues In Win
|Paco Varol led the Flames with a career-high seven tackles during Liberty's season-opener against N.C. State.|
No. 22/18 Liberty committed seven turnovers, including two during the final five minutes of the game, which broke open a close contest with N.C. State. The last two giveaways led to the Wolfpack's final 13 points in a 43-21 win over Liberty, Saturday evening, inside of Carter-Finley Stadium.
The loss is only the second season-opening setback for the Flames during the six-year tenure of head coach Danny Rocco. The first was a 33-20 loss to the BIG EAST's West Virginia to open up the 2009 campaign.
Nearly 15 minutes of football went by before either team could put a dent in the scoreboard, as N.C. State took its first lead of the evening on a 32-yard field goal by Niklas Sade.
The two teams traded a pair of possessions before the Wolfpack mounted an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive that gave Sade, a true freshman, his first collegiate field goal.
The drive nearly started 20 yards back, as a punt by Mike Larsson was almost downed at the N.C. State one-yard line. However, the ball just trickled into the end zone to give N.C. State possession at its own 20-yard line.
Five-straight rushing plays led to four completions in a row by N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon. A fifth-consecutive try was unsuccessful when Glennon was flushed from the pocket and had to hurry an attempt to Jay Smith to set up the field goal.
A pair of miscues early in the second quarter led to some excitement and the first Liberty lead of the evening.
A high snap to Mike Brown led to a loose ball, as the ball was stripped from Liberty's senior quarterback by Darryl Cato-Bishop and picked up by Audie Cole at the N.C. State 38-yard line.
However, Liberty quickly returned the favor and sacked Glennon on the next play. The tackle by Walt Aikens jarred the ball loose and Francis Bah picked up the free ball and returned it 32 yards to give Liberty a 7-3 edge with 13:30 left in the opening half.
The score remained the same for the next 10 minutes until an 82-yard punt return by T.J. Graham gave N.C. State a 9-7 lead with 3:38 remaining until halftime.
Liberty was forced to punt on a fourth-and-12 play at its own 35-yard line. Larsson's punt skipped over Graham's head and the senior only gained five yards before being tackled.
However, the Wolfpack were called for holding on the play and the Flames elected to retry the punt to attempt to pin N.C. State inside its 20-yard line.
Graham then took advantage of the extra opportunity, as the senior fielded the ball and quickly got to the outside. After getting one last key block around midfield, the senior found the end zone for his second career punt return and the 11th-longest in N.C. State history.
A penalty was called on the point after attempt and Sade did not find the extra chance to his liking, as the freshman missed to the right to keep the score 9-7.
Another Liberty turnover allowed the Wolfpack to extend their lead to 16-7 going into the locker room at halftime.
Following a 39-yard kickoff return by Kevin Fogg, Liberty started with possession at the N.C. State 47-yard line. After a two-yard rushing gain by Sirchauncey Holloway, Brown's attempted pass over the middle was intercepted by D.J. Green to give the home team the ball back.
Following two lengthy passing plays by Glennon, Liberty nearly made a goal line stand. But a second effort by James Washington gave the junior halfback a one-yard touchdown score, capping off a quick 10-play, 57-yard drive to extend N.C. State's margin to nine with 32 seconds left before the halftime break.
Brown finished the opening half 14-of-23 for 128 yards, with two interceptions, while Glennon completed 11-of-21 passing attempts for 97 yards for N.C. State.
Brown was Liberty's leading first-half rusher, finishing the first 30 minutes with 10 of Liberty's 15 rushing attempts for 11 yards. N.C. State evenly distributed its 18 hand-offs, with Washington leading the way with seven carries for 25 yards.
Hayes (five receptions for 38 yards) and Ervin Garner (three receptions for 44 yards) paced all receivers during the first half; with N.C. State's receiving leader being Tobais Palmer (two receptions for 27 yards).
The third turnover of the game by Brown led to N.C. State's first touchdown of the second half. Trying to reach the first-down marker on a second-and-seven play, Brown was stopped one yard short by Earl Wolff. While the safety was bringing Brown to the ground, he stripped the ball loose.
Brian Slay recovered the miscue and returned it 52 yards for a score. The fourth-longest fumble return in Wolfpack history pushed N.C. State's lead to 23-7 at the 8:51 mark of the third quarter.
Following a 24-yard return by Korrey Davis, Brown got to the outside for a 21-yard burst. N.C. State was whistled for a late hit out of bounds, giving the Flames the ball at the 27-yard line.
The Walter Payton candidate connection of Brown and Chris Summers then found each other for the first time in 2011. Brown lofted a ball into the end zone 27 yards downfield, giving Summers his 20th career touchdown. Following a short pass from Brown to Pat Kelly in the back left corner of the end zone, the two-point conversion pulled the Flames within eight, 23-15, 25 seconds later.
Big plays continue to lead to scoring efforts, this time benefiting the homestanding Wolfpack. After a 44-yard kickoff return by Graham that started N.C. State at Liberty's 33-yard line, Curtis Underwood scored two plays later on a 33-yard run to give the Wolfpack a 15-point edge, 30-15, just 10 seconds after Liberty's score.
The Flames pieced together an eight-play, 40-yard scoring drive to pull back within 12 points, 30-18, following a 50-yard field goal by two-time All-America kicker Matt Bevins. The 50-yard boot was the fourth 50-plus yard field goal of the senior's career.
After Liberty forced a three-and-out series, the Flames continued to chip away at N.C. State's advantage. Another eight-play drive stalled at the 21-yard line when Aldreakis Allen was stopped on an attempted run on a third-and-three play.
Liberty was forced to settle for Bevins' second field goal of the second half, a 38-yarder, trimming the lead to nine, 30-21, just 39 seconds into the final quarter. The three-pointer was his school-record 56th of his career.
Six minutes later, Rocco challenged a call and got the initial ruling on the field overturned, giving the Flames the ball back after a fumble by Underwood at the N.C. State 32-yard line.
However, Brown fumbled on the very next play when he was struck by Jeff Rieskamp and the loose football was scooped up by Slay with 7:40 left to play.
During the remaining minutes of the contest, N.C. State scored twice, once on a Glennon pass to Mario Carter and the second on a 19-yard rushing touchdown by Washington. Washington's second score of the night was set up by an interception, when David Amerson picked off Brown for the third and final time of the night.
Liberty outgained the Wolfpack on the night, 406 to 318 yards, with 295 yards coming via the Flames' passing game.
Brown finished the evening 22-of-39 for 279 yards, but had his third three-interception game of his career. Glennon finished his first game as N.C. State's starting quarterback 18-of-31 for 156 yards. Both hurlers had one touchdown pass.
Brown was Liberty's top rusher, finishing the night with 20 rushing attempts for 77 yards, followed by five carries from Aldreakis Allen (13 yards) and three rushing attempts by B.J. Hayes (15 yards). Underwood led the Wolfpack with 14 carries for 114 yards.
Kelly finished as Liberty's top receiver for the second game in a row. After setting a program and Big South record with 235 receiving yards in Liberty's 2010 season finale against Stony Brook, the junior caught six passes for 80 yards against N.C. State. Hayes also pulled in six passes for 47 yards, while Summers finished with five receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Liberty's top tackler in the game was defensive lineman Paco Varol, who finished with seven stops, including five solo tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in his first career start.
Another first-time starter, linebacker Nick Sigmon, completed his first collegiate game with six tackles, including five solo stops.
The Flames will open up the 2011 portion of the home schedule next weekend at Williams Stadium against Robert Morris. Kickoff for the contest is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Colonials, in their first road game of the year, will be looking to upstage Liberty for the second year in row, after Robert Morris knocked off the Flames 30-23 on a late touchdown last year in Pittsburgh, Pa.