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Big Plays Give Flames Record-Setting Victory over In-State Foe VMI
With the victory, the Flames raise their record to 7-3 on the year and 3-0 in the Big South. The triumph gives Liberty its eighth-straight home victory to set a new school record and finishes the year 6-0 at home for the first time in school history.
The win also sets the table for Liberty's first-ever chance at a Big South Conference title. The Flames travel to Boiling Springs, N.C., next weekend to take on Gardner-Webb. The Flames and the Bulldogs entered the day tied atop the Big South standings with perfect 2-0 records. Gardner-Webb is on the road this evening in Conway, S.C, taking on three-time defending conference champions Coastal Carolina at 7 p.m.
The loss drops the Keydets to 2-8 on the year and 0-4 in Big South play, giving VMI its second-straight season without a Big South victory.
A 78-yard return by Dominic Bolden on the opening kickoff set up Liberty's first scoring drive of the game. However, the homestanding Flames had to settle for three points as the Keydets' defense held the Flames to just three yards on the drive, ending with a 26-yard field goal by Noah Greenbaum at the 13:26 mark of the first.
The scoring drive marked the eighth time this year Liberty has scored on its opening drive of the game. The Flames have recorded three field goals and five touchdowns on their initial drive of the contest through 10 games.
Another lengthy play set up Liberty's next addition to the scoreboard. Zach Terrell broke free for a 53-yard gain, rushing down the near sideline to the Liberty 22-yard line. Four players later, senior Brandon Turner caught his seventh career touchdown pass, a six-yard pass from Brock Smith to give Liberty a 10-0 edge at the 8:26 mark of the first.
After a second-straight three-and-out series by VMI, Liberty took over possession of the ball near midfield, and on the first play, Smith completed a deep pass to Bolden, who scampered 52 yards downfield to push Liberty's lead to 17-0.
Big plays continued to factor into Liberty's scoring outburst, as the Flames added seven more points with a 1:37 left to play in the opening period. Turner caught a 35-yard pass on the far side of the field, followed two plays later by Smith's nine-yard quarterback keeper, for a 24-point Liberty advantage.
The second quarter turned out to be an old-fashion shootout, with the two teams combining for 49 points over the 15-minute span. The Keydets ended up gaining ground during the period, by outscoring the Flames 28-21, as Liberty took a 45-28 lead into the intermission.
The 49-point period scoring period had highlights for both squads. VMI scored four touchdowns during the second quarter, including rushing touchdowns from Howard Abegesah (14 yards) and Tim Maypray (11 yards), and Kyle Hughes found Maypray open for a 33-yard pass play.
But the play which brought VMI's strong traveling contingent to their feet was an 87-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Bryant Youngblood with two seconds left in the first half.
On a run up the middle, Liberty's Zach Terrell was stripped of the ball at the VMI 13-yard line. The Keydet's sophomore free safety picked up the ball and returned it for the longest fumble return for a touchdown by a Liberty opponent in program history.
The Flames added 21 points during the second quarter, including a seven-yard touchdown run by Jennings and a 14-yard scoring pass play from Smith to Bolden, the duo's second touchdown connection of the day.
Bolden also posted his second lengthy return of the afternoon, returning a kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, giving the junior his third career kickoff return for a touchdown and over 1,000 career kickoff return yards.
Liberty, in an attempt to slow down the pace of play, gave the ball to Jennings for a majority of the third quarter, a period which saw the junior score two more rushing touchdowns.
The first run was four-yard run over the left tackle at the 7:34 mark, capping off a seven-play, 64-yard drive, Liberty's second-longest scoring drive of the afternoon.
Later in the period, Jennings busted up the middle for a six-yard scoring run, striking with 4:04 left to play in the third. The score gave the junior his 15th rushing touchdown of the year, setting a new Big South Conference record.
Before the clock struck zeroes in the third quarter, Liberty tacked on seven additional points, thanks to its second special teams touchdown of the afternoon to push its lead to a 66-28. After a Keydet drive stalled at the 30-yard line, VMI punted the ball away to Jonathan Crawford.
The junior fielded the ball at the Liberty 35-yard line and returned it 65 yards for a score with 1:47 left in the period, giving the Flames a punt and kickoff return for a score for the first time since Liberty accomplished the same feat against Charleston Southern last season.
On the Flames first drive of the fourth quarter, Liberty made wise use of the second half of its running back tandem, allowing Terrell to extend his touchdown running streak to 15-straight games.
On the ninth play of the 56-yard drive, Terrell took a hand-off from back-up quarterback Spencer Landis and found a hole open on the left side of the field, for a three-yard scoring on a fourth-and-one play, giving Liberty a 73-28 lead with 10:15 left to play in the game.
The Keydets tacked on the final scoreboard tally of the afternoon with an eight-yard touchdown run by Joey Robinson with 2:30 left in the game, tying the Big South record for combined points scored in a contest (107).
The 73 points pushed Liberty's season-to-date point total to 438, also setting a new Big South Conference record.
Lost in the day's offensive outburst was a noteworthy day for Liberty's running back duo, as both Jennings and Terrell eclipsed the 2,000 career rushing mark during the contest. Terrell led the Flames with 83 yards on seven carries and a score, while Jennings rushed for 77 yards and three touchdowns. Jennings has now rushed for 2,019 career yards, followed closely behind by Terrell with 2,013 career yards.
VMI rushed for an opponent season high, as the Keydets took to the ground for 291 yards on 64 carries. Abegesah led the Keydets with 120 yards on 25 carries, followed by Robinson's 96 yards on 11 carries.
For the second time in his career, Smith passed for 200 or more yards in three-straight games, as the junior threw for 246 yards. The quarterback was efficient on the afternoon, completing 11-of-14 passing attempts and tossing three touchdowns. Hughes was 5-of-10 on the day, throwing for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Turner, who was one of 22 seniors who played their final game at Williams Stadium on the afternoon, led all receivers with five receptions for 91 yards and score. Maypray led the Keydets with two catches for 59 yards and a touchdown reception.
Bolden finished the afternoon with the most impressive numbers of the day for Liberty. The wide receiver returned three kickoffs for 198 yards, giving the junior 1,018 career kickoff return yards. He also finished the day with two receptions for 66 yards, both going for touchdowns.
Defensively, Liberty tied a season high with five forced turnovers, including four fumbles and its Big South leading 16th interception of the season. Nick Hursky led the Flames with 10 tackles, giving the junior his fifth game of the year with a double-digit tackle total.
For the third-straight game and the fourth time this year, Liberty packed in over 14,000 fans into Williams Stadium, as Saturday afternoon, 14,273 spectators saw the Flames finish the year unbeaten at home. The attendance number pushed Liberty's season-ending home attendance number to 85,140, shattering last year's school record of 66,765 fans.
Next weekend, the Flames will have the opportunity to record its first eight-win season since 1997, when Liberty finished the year 9-2. Liberty's contest against Gardner-Webb is scheduled to kickoff at 3:35 p.m. The game will be televised on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.