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No. 16/13 Lehigh Escapes with 28-26 Win over Liberty
|Brandon Apon scored his first touchdown of the season and the third of his career on a 35-yard pass play from Josh Woodrum against No. 16/13 Lehigh.|
For the second-straight home game, Liberty came within inches of having a chance to upend a ranked opponent, but the Flames fell just short as No. 16/13 Lehigh escaped with a 28-26 win, Saturday night at Williams Stadium.
With the victory, Lehigh opens its season with a 4-0 record for the first time since 2001. The loss drops Liberty to 0-4 for the first time since 1982 following their third-straight setback to a Top 25 program.
The evening capped a weekend of celebration on Liberty Mountain as it was part of the annual Athletics Hall of Fame weekend.
During a special halftime ceremony five new members were inducted in the Hall of Fame: Jesse Castro (wrestling), Mark Chafin (men's basketball), John Sanders (football), Sharon (Snodgrass) May (women's basketball) and Ryan Werner (men's track & field).
The Flames took the opening position of the game and managed to get to the Lehigh 36-yard line where Liberty elected to go for it on a fourth-and-six play.
Quarterback Josh Woodrum tried to find an open receiver over the middle, but his short-yardage pass was picked off by linebacker John Mahoney.
The Flames' seventh turnover of the season led to the first seven points of the game, as Lehigh quickly scored on a four-play, 50-yard drive.
The key play was a 30-yard completion from Michael Colvin to Zach Barket which put the Mountain Hawks into the red zone. On the next play, back-up tailback Keith Sherman took the handoff and scored from one yard out to take a 7-0 lead with 9:44 left in the first quarter.
The score remained the same until early in the second quarter when another lengthy passing play led to a one-yard scoring run for the visitors.
Liberty's defense flushed Colvin from the pocket on a second-and-19 play, but the senior was able to scramble and gain a few extra seconds to find an open receiver downfield.
The receiver he found was All-American Ryan Spadola, who caught a deep pass on the opposite side of the field and broke a few tackles to reach the Flames' one-yard line. On the next play, Colvin called his own number and scored from one yard out to push the Mountain Hawks' lead to 14-0 with 12:53 left to play before halftime.
The Flames finally answered back late in the second half after a stop on fourth down play gave Liberty possession at its own 45-yard line.
Lehigh faced second-and-one at the Liberty 45-yard line, but the Flames defense forced an incomplete pass and stopped a Sherman rush up the middle.
The Flames quickly moved down field on to sizeable passes from Woodrum. The first was a 17-yard reception by Pat Kelly on a third-and-10 play to keep the drive alive.
Three plays later, Woodrum found Brandon Apon open over the middle and the tight end raced downfield for his third career touchdown reception. The 35-yard pass play trimmed Lehigh's lead in half, 14-7, with 4:56 left to play in the opening half.
Liberty's defense continued to challenge Lehigh, forcing the visitors to give the ball back on their second three-and-out series of the evening.
The Flames then took to their ground game to even the contest before the halftime break. Liberty managed to knot the score at 14-14 with 47 seconds left before intermission thanks to a pair of long carries by its set of running backs.
The first was a 36-yard carry by Aldreakis Allen, who got to the far side of the field for a first down on his longest run of the year.
Two plays later, Sirchauncey Holloway found a seam and scored from 22 yards out, giving him his 23rd career rushing touchdown and second of the season to tie the game at the break.
The Flames held the edge in most of the statistical categories during the first 30 minutes of play, including a 235-177 total offensive yard lead. Liberty also led in first downs (10-6), more rushing yards (115-18) and time of possession (19:31-10:29).
The only offensive category Lehigh led at the half was passing, with Colvin completing 11-of-15 attempts for 159 yards. Woodrum was 10-of-14 for 109 yards, while Brian Hudson completed his lone pass for 11 yards.
Allen was the game's leading rusher following 30 minutes of play, with nine carriers for 75 yards, followed by Holloway's eight carries for 48 yards. Lehigh's limited run game was led by Barket, who had four rushing attempts for eight yards.
Spadola's 58-yard reception in the first half allowed him to finish the first 30 minutes as the top receiver with three catches for 60 yards. Ryan Ferguson was Liberty's leading receiver with three receptions for 26 yards.
The Flames' stout defense continued to control the pace of play, allowing Lehigh only 40 total offensive yards during the third quarter.
Liberty managed to piece together a pair of seven-plus play drives, the second of which led to Liberty's first lead since the second quarter of their last home game, Sept. 8 against Norfolk State.
The Flames penetrated Lehigh's red zone for the third time of the night, but the Mountain Hawks were able to come up with a stop of their own when Time Newton sacked Woodrum on a third-and-five play from the Lehigh 11-yard line.
John Lunsford knocked down a 32-yard field with 1:36 left to play in the third period, giving Liberty a 17-14 lead and marking the first time that Lehigh had trailed during the 2012 season.
The game pattern continued, resulting in Liberty doubling its lead to six points with 9:06 left in the game. The Flames forced their second-straight three-and-out series and then had a drive stall at the Lehigh 22-yard line.
Woodrum took pressure on the final two plays of the drive before a 40-yard Lunsford field goal. The first was a broken-down play where the rookie quarterback avoided a sack before finding Allen for a four-yard passing gain.
The second found Woodrum tucking the ball and getting to the middle of the field on a five-yard quarterback scramble to set up Lunsford's second field goal of the night.
The visitors more than doubled their second half offensive output on a single play, which put Lehigh on top 21-20 with 7:41 left to play.
Following their second timeout of the half, the Mountain Hawks kept the ball in the hands of their quarterback up the middle, who was able to score on a 68-yard draw play to put the visitors up by one.
The momentum continued to swing in the visitors' favor, as Lehigh turned a second Liberty turnover into seven additional points.
On a third-and-second play, Woodrum's pass over the middle was tipped, intercepted by Billy Boyko and returned 39 yards by the middle linebacker for a touchdown to extend Lehigh's lead to 28-20 with 6:06 left in the game.
The Flames used the game's remaining time to methodically move downfield and find the end zone for the third time on the evening.
Solid running plays by both Allen and Holloway set up a three-yard quarterback keeper by Woodrum to pull the Flames within two, 28-26, with 59 seconds left in the game.
On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Woodrum tried to get a pass to Ryan Ferguson just in front of the goal line, but Bryan Andrews was able to get his hand in front of the pass and stop the potential tying play.
The Flames finished as the statistical leader in each category except the one on the final scoreboard.
Liberty outgained Lehigh, 488 to 301 yards, and finished with a 42:25-17:35 time of possession advantage.
The Flames also finished as the game's leader in first downs (23-9), rushing yards (241-106) and passing yards (247-195).
Allen and Holloway became the first pair of Liberty running backs to rush for 100 yards in the same game since Rashad Jennings (101 yards) and Zach Terrell (115 yards) against St. Francis, Pa., on Sept. 29, 2007.
Allen recorded his fifth career 100-yard game by rushing 18 times for 125 yards, followed by Holloway's 20 carries for 107 yards.
Colvin led the Mountain Hawks' limited rushing attack with five carries for 77 yards, with 68 of those yards coming on his touchdown run.
Woodrum completed 20-of-27 passing attempts for 236 yards and a touchdown, while finishing with two interceptions. Colvin was 14-of-24 for 195 yards.
Kelly missed his fourth career 100-yard game by one yard, totaling seven catches for 99 yards to lead the Flames.
Four different Lehigh receivers each finished with three catches, and Spadola led the way with 60 receiving yards.
Lehigh had three defenders finish with double-digit tackles, led by Boyko's 14-stop game. O'Brien followed with 13 tackles, while Sam Loughery had 11 tackles.
Following a bye week, Liberty will open Big South Conference play against Gardner-Webb on Oct. 6 at Williams Stadium.
The game will finish off another celebratory weekend on Liberty Mountain, as it will cap off the university's annual Homecoming Weekend. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.