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Flames Survive Overtime Thriller with Blue Hose
No. 23/24 Liberty got a late offensive push in regulation and stopped the visiting Blue Hose during the second overtime to scratch out a 27-20 victory over Presbyterian College, Saturday afternoon, inside Williams Stadium.
With the narrow win, Liberty claims its fifth victory in a row and moves to 6-3 on the season. The Flames remain unbeaten in Big South play, becoming the first team in league history to start five-consecutive seasons with a 4-0 conference record. The loss drops Presbyterian College to 2-6 on the year and 1-2 in Big South play.
The Flames continued to find first-drive success in Big South play, scoring on their first drive for the third time in four league games to jump out to a quick lead.
Liberty won the coin toss and elected to take possession to open the game on a drive that penetrated deep into Blue Hose territory.
The nine-play, 59-yard drive was highlighted by a 32-yard run by Aldreakis Allen and an 18-yard pass play from Mike Brown to Chris Summers.
The Brown to Summers connection got Liberty to the one-yard line. However, Presbyterian College's defense was able to stop three-straight rushing attempts, leaving the Flames to settle for an 18-yard Alex Kacere field goal at the 11:22 mark.
Unlike the Flames' previous Big South games this season, that would be the last time either team would add points to the scoreboard during the opening 30 minutes, as Liberty's 3-0 lead held up the remainder of the half.
Liberty's defense continued to dominate Big South opponents during the first half, keeping a second opponent scoreless during the opening 30 minutes. In four Big South games, the Flames have allowed only 10 first-half points.
Liberty limited the visitors to 104 total offensive yards and five first downs. On a blustery day inside of Williams Stadium, Presbyterian College elected to keep the ball on the ground most of the first half. The Blue Hose picked up 84 of their 104 yards on 14 rushing attempts.
The Flames' offense, which came into the game outscoring Big South opponents 101-10 during the first half, was unable to find any rhythm for most of the day. Liberty finished the opening half with 228 total offensive yards, evenly split with 115 rushing and 113 passing yards.
Brown finished the opening half 12-of-19 for 113 yards, but the quarterback did throw his first interception in three games to result in the only first-half turnover.
Allen gained most of Liberty's yards on the ground, as the sophomore rushed 10 times for 78 yards. Brown also carried the ball eight times for 32 yards before the intermission.
The two teams traded short possessions to open the second half, with neither team mustering any additional offense during their first possessions of third quarter.
The Blue Hose, who had just cracked the 100-total offensive yard mark during the first half, nearly doubled their total on one play.
On a misdirection play, Ryan Singer found a hole on the left side of the line, leaving an open field between the quarterback and the end zone for a 74-yard touchdown run.
The lengthy play, the longest in Presbyterian College's Division I era, gave the visitors a 7-3 advantage with 11:11 left to play on the third quarter game clock. The four-point lead by the Blue Hose marked the first time the Flames have trailed in a Big South game this season.
The Flames responded by putting together their longest drive of the afternoon, a 13-play, 79-yard effort that ended in the red zone. Liberty had to settle for its second field goal of the game, a 30-yarder by Kacere to pull the Flames with one, 7-6, with 3:51 left in the third.
The score remained the same until midway through the fourth quarter. Presbyterian College looked like it was poised to score its second touchdown of the game, getting to Liberty's one-yard line.
However, back-to-back penalties continued to push the visitors back and the Blue Hose left the drive with a 29-yard Aaron Mayes field goal to boost their margin to four points, 10-6, with 9:35 left in regulation.
Liberty looked like it was going to respond, as the Flames drove to the Presbyterian College two-yard line. But, the visitors stopped Liberty on three-consecutive plays, including an attempted rush by Brown on fourth-and-two to create a turnover on downs.
Liberty forced a quick three-and-out series on the next drive and got a 41-yard punt return by Ervin Garner to start the Flames just 12 yards from the Presbyterian College end zone.
Following a six-yard pass play from Brown to Pat Kelly, Allen took a handoff and found the end zone for Liberty's first touchdown of the game. The six-yard burst to the right side gave Liberty a 13-10 edge with 1:32 left to play.
The Flames elected to squib kick the ensuing kickoff, which gave Presbyterian College the ball on its own 45-yard line with 1:26 remaining.
The Blue Hose quickly moved downfield seven plays on 50 yards, spotlighted by a 34-yard pass over the middle by Singer to Michael Ruff and a 13-yard run by Lance Byrd. The second mentioned play put the visitors in field goal range. That allowed Mayes to kick a 22-yard field goal with five seconds left, leveling the score at 13-13 and putting Liberty into overtime for the first time since the 2007 season.
Presbyterian College wasted little time reclaiming the lead, as Ruff burst to the outside on the first play of overtime, scoring on a 25-yard run to put the Blue Hose up 20-13.
The Flames took a little longer to respond, as Liberty pieced together a six-play, 25-yard push to knot the score at 20-20. The last play was a three-yard rush by Allen up the middle, where the sophomore's second-effort lunge pushed the nose of the football across the goal line.
Liberty had the first possession of the second overtime period and matched Presbyterian College's quick-strike overtime opener.
Brown rolled out right and lofted a ball into the end zone toward Summers, where the All-America wide receiver went up and took the ball away from defensive back Justin Bethel to put the Flames up 27-20 on Summers' 25th career touchdown.
On the next possession, Presbyterian College managed to get the ball down to the 10-yard line. However, Scott Hyland burst through the line of scrimmage to record a 12-yard sack of Singer, followed by an incomplete pass to Anderico Bailey to give Liberty its 14th-straight Big South victory inside of Williams Stadium.
Both teams crossed the 400-yard total offensive threshold, with Liberty outgaining Presbyterian College, 468 yards to 401.
The Blue Hose did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 287 yards on 38 carries, while the Flames more evenly spread their offensive attack with 204 rushing and 264 passing yards.
Allen had his second-straight 100-yard game, rushing for a career-best 131 yards on 26 carries, while scoring twice to lead the Flames on the ground.
Brown had his 13th career game with 300 total offensive yards, finishing the contest with 332 yards. The Walter Payton Award candidate rushed for 68 yards on 16 carries, while completing 24-of-40 passing attempts for 264 yards and a touchdown.
Summers finished the night as Liberty's leading receiver, pulling down six passes for 76 yards, followed closely by Kelly's five receptions for 55 yards.
For the first time since the 2002 season, Liberty allowed two opposing players to finish a game with 100 rushing yards. Byrd led Presbyterian College with 111 yards on 12 carries, while Singer carried the ball 16 times for 108 yards.
Singer ended the night 12-of-26 for 114 passing yards, with Joey Gilkey leading the Blue Hose with three receptions for 28 yards.
Five players finished the game with 10 or more tackles, including four from the visiting team. Presbyterian College's Donelle Williams led all tacklers with 18 stops, while Sigmon had his second straight double-digit effort to lead Liberty with 10 stops.
The Flames will close out the home portion of their regular-season schedule next weekend when they host Big South and in-state foe VMI, Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., inside Williams Stadium.
The afternoon Commonwealth battle will be part of Military Appreciation Day, which will feature a moving halftime performance to honor all military branches.
Liberty has won five matchups in a row against the Keydets, including the last two by 39 points or more at home (73-34 in 2007 and 54-14 in 2009).
The Keydets stepped outside of Big South play today, falling to The Citadel, 41-14, in Charleston, S.C. VMI will come into the game with a 1-7 overall record and a 1-2 mark in Big South play.