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Flames Upend No. 6/8 Stony Brook on Senior Day
The Flames equaled their entire season turnover total on Saturday and kept Walter Payton Award candidate Miguel Maysonet in check, securing a 28-14 victory over No. 6/8 Stony Brook on Senior Day at Williams Stadium.
Beside its 16-member senior class, Liberty Athletics also honored all branches of the armed forces on the day during Military Appreciation Day.
The 14-point win comes against the highest-ranked team Liberty has beaten in program history and was the Flames' first over a ranked opponent under first-year head coach Turner Gill. With the win, the Flames level their season record at 5-5 and up to 4-1 in Big South play.
The win also extended the Big South's longest home conference winning streak, as the Flames have now won 18-straight league games dating back to 2006.
The loss brings to a close the regular season schedule for the Seawolves. The Stony Brook finishes 2012 with a 9-2 overall mark and 5-1 in Big South play. The Seawolves are assured a share of the Big South title for the fourth year in a row, but their postseason fate will be determined following the completion of next week's Big South schedule.
Stony Brook scored on its first drive of the game, jumping out to a 7-0 lead thanks to two large gains by quarterback Kyle Essington on third-down plays.
The first came on a career-long 41-yard gain on the ground, as the senior faked a handoff to running back Maysonet on a third-and-six play. The deception created an empty field on the near side and the senior was able to scamper downfield before being pushed out of bounds.
Three plays later, Essington found fullback Chris Fenelon open in the flat for a 15-yard gain on a third-and-six play and was stopped at the one-yard line by Brent Vinson. Maysonet scored his Big South leading 18th touchdown on the next play, giving the visitors the early lead with 9:19 left to play in the first quarter.
The two teams battled for field position until the Flames used a little of their own misdirection to tie the game with 12:12 left to play in the second quarter.
After 30-yard punt by Wesley Skiffington gave Liberty its best starting spot to begin a drive in the game, Liberty brought in back-up quarterback Brian Hudson
The Flames "wildcat" quarterback rolled out of the pocket and completed his first touchdown pass since earlier this year against Norfolk State. The junior found Desmond Rice open on the far side of the field and the running back found the end zone 49 yard later to tie the game.
On the next drive, linebacker Nick Sigmon forced the Seawolves to punt the ball away with back-to-back stops. On the first, the sophomore broke up a pass over the middle and then stopped Maysonet on a run up the middle on a third-and-seven play.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Josh Woodrum connected with senior Pat Kelly, who was able to shake off his defender and gain 67 yards. The reception pushed the senior over the 2,000 career receiving mark and put the Flames back in the red zone.
Following a roughing the passer penalty on Stony Brook, Hudson was back under center for Liberty and the quarterback called his own number to score from four yards out and give the Flames the 14-7 lead with 9:03 left to play before halftime.
Both teams tried to find the end zone one last time before heading to the locker room and the visitors had the best look at adding points to the scoreboard.
With just over three minutes left before halftime, Essington tried to go downfield, but his deep pass to the far side of the field was picked off by senior Brent Vinson at the 29-yard line to end the final scoring threat of the opening 30 minutes.
The two teams finished the first half with similar numbers with Stony Brook outgaining the Flames by five yards (201 to 196).
Stony Brook's total offensive yards were evenly split between rushing (95) and passing (106), while Liberty relied mainly on the arms of its quarterbacks with 167 passing yards.
Woodrum completed 9-of-13 passing attempts for 118 yards to go along with Hudson's 49 touchdown pass. Essington finished the first half 6-of-11 for 106 yards.
Aldreakis Allen led the Flames' limited rushing attack with seven carries for 21 yards, while Maysonet finished the first 30 minutes of the game with 11 carries 28 yards.
The game's second turnover led to the next points added to the scoreboard. After the two teams traded failed drives, Stony Brook took over at its own 12-yard line. After a failed pass attempt by Essington, the senior tried to pick up a first down over the middle of the field, but Sigmon stepped in front of the pass and return the interception 21 yards for a 21-7 Liberty lead with 9:49 left to play in the third quarter.
Liberty's defense continued to keep Stony Brook off balance, sacking Essington on a third-and-long play on its next drive and Jacob Hagen intercepted the senior two drives later to keep the Seawolves from possessing the football.
Stony Brook finally was able to mount its first offensive drive since the start of the game late in the third and into the fourth quarter.
The Seawolves converted twice on fourth-down plays, including a 13-yard run by Maysonet to the near side of the field to pull Stony Brook back within seven, 21-14, with 13:31 left to play in the game.
Liberty looked like it might give itself a two score cushion midway through the fourth quarter. However a hold penalty on a third-and-nine play pushed the Flames back 10 yards. Freshman kicker John Lunsford was brought on to attempt his second longest field goal of the year, which the collegiate rookie missed to the right with 4:53 remaining in the game.
On the next drive, the Seawolves tried to go back to the offensive leader, but Maysonet lost control of the football when he was struck by Sigmon. The loose ball was scooped up by Hagen and returned 44 yards for a score to secure Liberty's historic victory.
The Flames, who came into the game ranked No. 26 in the country in total offense, had their lowest offensive output of the season at 259 yards.
The telling statistic in the game was the five turnovers Liberty forced, two of which led to Liberty's four scoring opportunities. The last time the Flames scored two defensive touchdowns in a game was last year against Charleston Southern, when Liberty returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a 38-16 road victory.
Essington, who came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country in passing efficiency, was picked off four times, equaling his total during the first 10 games of the season.
Liberty held Stony Brook's rushing attack in check, allowing the Seawolves to rush for 156 yards on 40 carries. Stony Brook came into the game ranked No. 5 in the country in rushing offense (304.0 yards per game) and below the 200-yard rushing mark for the first time in 2012.
Maysonet ranked No. 2 in the country in rushing offense came into the day (165.1 yards per game), but the senior was limited to 70 yards on 25 carries. He did score both of Stony Brook's touchdowns, giving him 19 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Liberty finished the game with 62 team rushing yards, led by Allen's 15 carries for 36 yards.
Essington was 15-of-31 for 227 yards, while Woodrum finished the afternoon 13-of-22 for 148 yards.
Hudson only had two offensive plays during the game, but both led to the Flames' two offensive scores. The first was the 49 yard touchdown pass to Rice and the second was the four-yard touchdown run.
Kelly became the fifth player in program history to surpass the 2,000 yard career receiving mark, finishing the game with six receptions for 113 yards. With the senior's third 100-yard game of the year, Kelly now has 2,064 career receiving yards.
Kevin Norrell led all Seawolves with five receptions for 118 yards, followed by Myles Campbell's four receptions for 39 yards.
The Flames' stout defense was paced by Sigmon, who finished the game with nine tackles, two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown and a pass breakup.
Vinson, one of 16 seniors honored prior to the game, followed with eight stops and a 26-yard interception return, while Chris Mayo added seven stops.
Stony Brook's defense was led by Reginald Francklin and Grant Nakwaasah, who both had a half-dozen stops on the afternoon.
The Flames will play for a share of the 2012 Big South Conference football title next week, when Liberty travels to Lexington, Va., to face the Keydets of VMI.
Liberty will be looking to secure its fifth Big South title in the last six seasons (Big South titles in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010). Kickoff at Foster Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m.
How many teams share the title will be determined next weekend with both Liberty and Coastal Carolina heading into the final week of the season with a 4-1 Big South record.
The Chanticleers, who defeated Presbyterian College, 56-7, earlier in the day, will host Charleston Southern at home. Kickoff at Brooks Stadium is 3:30 p.m.
Stony Brook wins the title outright and the league's automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs if both Liberty and Coastal Carolina were to lose.
If the Flames defeat the Keydets and Coastal Carolina falls to Charleston Southern, Liberty shares the title with Stony Brook, but earns its first-ever FCS Playoff berth based upon its head-to-head victory over the Seawolves today.
If both Liberty and Coastal Carolina win their season finales, the league play ends with its second three-way share of the title in two years. Coastal Carolina wins the tiebreaker and the league's automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs just like it did in 2010, based upon its perfect 3-0 record in road Big South games in 2012.