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Big Plays Lead to Flames Victory over Panthers
|Walt Aikens recorded one of Liberty's four interceptions during the game against Kentucky Wesleyan.|
The Liberty Flames showcased their big play ability throughout the first half, en route to an eventual 73-7 victory over visiting Kentucky Wesleyan, Saturday night at Williams Stadium.
The victory moved the Flames to 3-2 on the season, including a win in each of their first three home games of the year since 2010. The loss keeps Kentucky Wesleyan winless on the 2013 season (0-4) and 0-3 in the overall series with Liberty.
The Flames were the first to post big plays, scoring twice during the game's opening three minutes to take a quick 14-0 lead.
Liberty's initial big play came the first time the Flames' offense touched the football with quarterback Josh Woodrum finding Darrin Peterson open on the far side of the field for a 55-yard touchdown pass 19 seconds into the game.
Liberty's defense forced a three-and-out series on the Kentucky Wesleyan's first offensive series, resulting in a visitor punt. However, Andrew Jauch was able to get behind the line and block Nathan Ballinger's kick.
The junior linebacker then picked up the loose football and returned it 30 yards for a score to give Liberty a two-touchdown lead at the 12:34 mark of the first quarter.
The Panthers' managed to contain Liberty's offense on its next drive, as the Flames had to settle for a 34-yard John Lunsford five minutes later to take a 17-0 lead.
Kentucky Wesleyan showcased their big play ability on its next drive. Dalton Oliver hit Jeff Ward with a deep pass downfield and the halfback was able to score on the 48-yard play to trim Liberty's lead to 10, 17-7, with 5:04 left in the first quarter.
Two sizeable rushes by Desmond Rice (26 yards) and D.J. Abnar (18 yards) set up a repeat play with Woodrum hitting Peterson in stride for a 21-yard touchdown play, pushing Liberty's lead back to 17, 24-7, at the 3:52 mark of the first quarter.
Liberty's defense made its presence known midway through the second quarter with a big play of its own. Cornerback Walt Aikens stepped in front of an Oliver pass over the middle and the senior returned his sixth career interception 45 yards.
On the contest's next play, Rice took a delayed handoff and found a hole up the middle to score from 26 yards and extend Liberty's margin to 24 points, 31-7, at the 9:34 mark of the second quarter.
The game's second interception set up the second-to-last scoring drive of the first half. Kevin Fogg followed his backfield playing partner Aikens, as he intercepted Oliver's deep pass downfield and return it 39 yards for his team-leading eighth career interception.
The Flames' kept the ball on the ground the next four plays with Woodrum handing the ball each time to Abnar. On the fourth carry of the drive, the sophomore was able to leap over the pile and score from two yards out at the 5:00 mark of the second quarter, giving Liberty a 38-7 edge.
Liberty's final big play of the opening 30 minutes of the contest resulted in the first half's final scoring. Oliver was picked off for the third time, as Gary Sampson recorded his first career interception and returned the turnover 31 yards to send Liberty to halftime with a 45-7 lead.
The big play scoring ability of the Flames was evident in the time of possession battle. The Flames managed to score 45 points with only 11:14 of total time of possession.
Liberty did outgained Kentucky Wesleyan, 233 to 157, with the Flames evenly spreading out their offense among it rushing (119 yards) and passing (114 yards) attacks.
Woodrum completed 6-of-11 passing attempts for 114 yards and two touchdown passes. Oliver was 11-of-18 for 136 yards and three first half interceptions.
Peterson caught five of Woodrum's six completions for 86 yards and two touchdown receptions. Keelan Cole was Oliver's top track at four receptions for 47 yards.
Rice and Abnar shared Liberty's rushing duties, with Rice finishing with 61 yards and Abnar gaining 46 yards on the ground. Both running backs scored during the opening 30 minutes.
Following another three-and-out series by Liberty's defense to open the second half, Javan Shashaty look over Liberty's offense and the redshirt freshman took the Flames down the field for the first of four second half scores.
Shashaty completed 4-of-5 pass attempts on the nine-play, 64-yard drive, including a 26-yard screen pass to Rice to push Liberty's lead to 52-7 with 9:33 left in the third quarter.
The remainder of the game allowed for several of Liberty's other players shine, including a pair of touchdown runs by running back Austin Kaigler.
The sophomore's first career touchdown run came with 8:38 left in the game, as he capped off a five-play, 28-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Kaigler matched the one-yard run with the clock winding down, scoring Liberty's final touchdown of the game with 65 second left to play in the contest.
Liberty tied it second most points scored in a game, as the Flames matched their 73-point effort against VMI on Nov. 10, 2007.
Liberty finished the game with 462 total offensive yards, with 241 of the yards coming on the ground and 221 coming via the Flames' passing game.
Kentucky Wesleyan ended the game with 212 total offensive yards with Liberty's defense holding them to 41 rushing yards.
Woodrum's first half stats stood with Shashaty taking all the second half snaps. Shashaty finished the game 7-of-8, including his first career touchdown pass.
Abnar recorded his first career 100-yard effort, carrying the ball 15 times for 108 yards and scoring twice. Rice followed with eighth carries for 63 yards, while Kaigler's career night ended with 15 carries for 54 yards and two scoring runs.
Peterson was Liberty's leading receiver with five first-half receptions for 86 yards and his second two-touchdown game of the year. Jaquan Glover followed with four receptions for a career-best 50 receiving yards.
The Panthers' offense was paced by Oliver, who finished the game 12-of-23 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown pass to Ward, Kentucky Wesleyan's leading receiver (76 yards). Kentucky Wesleyan's limited rushing attack was paced by Ward's seven carries for 26 yards and Devin Le'Gall's 14 rushing attempts for 19 yards.
Liberty's defense forced a season-best four turnovers during the game, all coming as interceptions. The last time the Flames finished a game with four interceptions was when the Flames upended No. 6/8 Stony Brook on Nov. 10, 2012.
The four interceptions all resulted in 30-plus yard returns: Sampson (31 yards), Jimmy O'Grady (33 yards), Fogg (39 yards) and Aikens (45 yards).
Kentucky Wesleyan's defense was paced by a 13-tackle game by free safety Cuda Dimmett and a 12-stop game by outside linebacker Cody Mills.
The Flames will play their final game before Big South play starts on Oct. 19 against No. 12/11 Coastal Carolina when Liberty travels to Norfolk, Va., to face Old Dominion, next Saturday.
The matchup between the Monarchs and the Flames will be the first meeting in the series between the Commonwealth opponents. Game time is set for 6 p.m. at Foreman Field at SB Ballard Stadium.