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Defense Shines in Annual Spring Football Game
A strong defensive effort from players on both squads led to a lower scoring annual Liberty spring football game, Saturday afternoon, one that saw the Blue team down their Red team counterparts, 7-3.
The afternoon event, played in front of 2,125 people, gave Flames fans their first look at Liberty's 2012 squad under the direction of first-year head coach Turner Gill. Neither team recorded an offensive touchdown, with the Blue team's seven points coming on a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Ryan Ayers.
Gill's spring game format pitted two squads against each other, playing two 12-minute quarters under normal game situations and one 25-minute running clock during the second half. The only exception to normal in-game situations was no kickoffs or punts.
Behind a defense that returns eight starters from 2011 and finished the year ranked No. 30 in the country in scoring, Liberty's red and blue defenders limited their fellow teammates to 17 combined first downs and 235 total offensive yards.
Gill's defensive scheme switch to a "4-3" defense helped his two defensive squads get behind the line of scrimmage quickly during the afternoon. The two teams combined to record 13 tackles for a loss and eight sacks, to go along with two interceptions.
Looking to replace the talents of two-time Walter Payton Award candidate Mike Brown at quarterback and the program's all-time career leader in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns in Chris Summers, all three of the quarterbacks on Liberty's roster got time under center on Saturday.
Tyler Brennan, a redshirt senior, who has played in 22 career games, finished the afternoon a combined 6-of-13 with two interceptions and 41 passing yards.
Brian Hudson, a redshirt junior, who played in three games last year, had the most productive statistical afternoon by completing 9-of-15 pass attempts for 91 yards.
Josh Woodrum, who saw his first time under center in a Liberty uniform on Saturday as a redshirt freshman, was 4-of-9 for 33 yards.
The only score of the first half came following each unit failing to advance the ball for significant yards on their first two possessions.
Brennan completed a six-yard slant pass to tight end Brandon Apon on the Red team's third drive, but the play was negated due to a holding penalty. Brennan returned to the air on the next play, where Ayers stepped in front of his downfield pass. After he broke free from a would-be tackler, Ayers was able to find the corner of the end zone for the game's lone touchdown.
Both Brennan and Hudson led their respective squads on longer drives during the second quarter, but neither resulted in additional points on the scoreboard.
Brennan's successful effort was aided by four rushes for 15 yards by Chase Barnett and a fifth rushing play by Desmond Rice. Brennan also completed a pair of passes to Pat Kelly (15 and seven yards) and another to Justin Gunn (14 yards) before Miles Hunter was able to halt the drive on a first-and-10 play from the 27-yard line with the day's second interception.
During the event's halftime ceremony, Liberty honored its 2011 senior class, giving each senior present a framed version of their jersey.
In addition, the football program awarded its Samkon Gado and Luke 2:52 annual award winners.
Graduated senior defensive back Brandon Robinson was named the 2011 Luke 2:52 award winner, honoring the graduating senior that best embodied the program's Whole Person Development initiative.
During the 25-minute running clock second half, Woodrum led the most successful drive, getting his team down to the 31-yard line. However, a sack by Dylan Lewellyn and an incomplete pass intended for Dante Shells brought the drive to a stop.
Gabe Henderson gained the most significant yardage during the second half. Henderson's 30-yard reception from Hudson eventually set up a 24-yard field goal by Alex Kacere to put the final points up on the scoreboard.
Barnett led eight different rushers on the day, finishing with seven rushing attempts for 26 yards. Rice followed with six carries for 23 yards, while Aldreakis Allen finished the day with nine carries for 22 yards. Sirchauncey Holloway rounded out Liberty's top rusher, carrying the ball eight times for 17 yards.
Eleven different players finished the afternoon with receptions, led by Kelly's three catches for 38 yards. Shells (15 yards), Branden Francis (12 yards) and Henderson (34 yards) were the last three players with multiple receptions on the day.
Liberty's stout defensive showing was paced by a nine-tackle effort from Jacob Hagen and an eight-stop day from Chris Mayo. Jibrille Fewell, who transferred to Liberty during the winter, added six tackles, while Aaron Dial matched his with a half dozen stops.
Cory Freeman led all players with 3.5 tackles for a loss, including 2.5 sacks, followed by a 2.5 tackle for a loss effort from Nick Sigmon.
Following the team's final spring practice workout session on Tuesday, Liberty will enter the offseason where they will look to prepare for the team's 2012 season opener on Sept. 1 against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C.