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Flames Start Rocco Era In Style With Shutout Victory Over St. Paul's
The contest marked the 15th time in school history that Liberty has shut out an opponent and the first time since October 28, 2000, when Liberty handed visiting Samford a 24-0 loss at Williams Stadium.
After the contest, Total Action Against Poverty, a non-profit organization that is based out of Roanoke and who sponsored the Classic, named Liberty's Rashad Jennings the game's offensive MVP as he rushed for 160 yards on 25 carries and scored twice, while St. Paul's Clinton Gee was name the game's defensive MVP as he finished with a game-high 11 tackles.
The game, which was played in front of an impressive crowd of 8,546 fans despite a steady rain throughout the evening, remained scoreless until midway through the first quarter as six-straight rushing attempts set up Jennings for a three-yard run up the middle to give Liberty a 7-0 lead with 9:50 left to play in the first quarter.
The two teams traded two sets of possessions over the remainder of the quarter and the score remained the same until midway through the second as Ben Beasley knocked through a 27-yard field goal to push Liberty's lead to 10-0 with 4:57 left before halftime. The scoring drive consisted of nine-straight rushing attempts that ate up 5:37 on the game clock.
After forcing the Tigers to punt six plays later, Wynton Jackson put the Flames in prime field possession as he returned the punt 46 yards to St. Paul's 32-yard line.
A 29-yard sideline pass from Brock Smith to Brandon Turner put the Flames back at the Tiger's three-yard line. And Liberty was able to push the ball across the goal line with a second three-yard score this time by Zach Terrell with 57 seconds left to play in the half.
But Zac Kolegue had his 34-consecutve PAT streak, the third longest in school history, come to an end as the junior missed the kick wide to the left, leaving the score at 16-0 at halftime.
Liberty took the opening kick of the second half and continued to stick to its rushing game as eight-straight rushing attempts by Jennings and Terrell resulted in another score. Jennings took a hand off from Terrell for a one-yard run up the middle to cap off a 60-yard drive and push the Flames' advantage to 22-0 after Beasley's PAT was blocked at the 9:31 mark of the third quarter.
After a pair of three-and-out series, Beasley was able to pin the Tigers deep in their own territory with a 34-yard punt to the St. Paul's 12-yard line. Two plays later, back-up quarterback Michael Garrison intentionally grounded a pass in the end zone to avoid a sack, giving Liberty another two points by virtue of the sack.
With most of its reserve players in the game, Liberty managed to tack on three additional points mid-way through the fourth quarter as Beasley capped of a seven-play, 33-yard drive with a 32-yard field goal at 9:11 in the fourth quarter to give Liberty's its final 27-0 margin of victory.
The Flames' power rushing attack and new 3-4 defense proved to be a winning combination in the contest as Liberty rushed for 274 yards on 50 carries (5.5 average yards per carry). On the defensive side of the ball, Liberty allowed the Tigers just 57 total offensive yards on 40 plays, while St. Paul's got the ball their the one 35-yard line three times during the game to mark the best field position of the contest.
Jennings became the 29th player in school history to rush for 100 yards in a game as the sophomore transfer rushed for 160 yards on 25 carries (averaging 6.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, while Terrell added nine carries for 48 yards and a score.
Smith battled blustery conditions all night and completed 4-for-12 passing attempts for 49 yards with Turner catching three of the passes for 48 yards.
Shaun Gutierrez kept the Tigers in the game as the punter finished with eight punts for 339 yards, averaging 42.4 yards in less than desirable conditions.
Jason Horn paced the Flames' strong defensive effort as the Big South preseason all-conference selection finished with seven tackles, including three tackles for a loss of 23 yards and two sacks for 21 yards.
The Tigers had two defenders finish with double figure tackles as Gee led the squad with 11 stops, while Jerome Manns added 10 tackles, including a tackle for a loss.
Liberty will close out a two-game season-opening home stand on September 9 when they welcome Glenville State to Williams Stadium for a 7 p.m. contest.