Both teams kicked 40-plus yard field goals late in the fourth quarter, including a 42-yarder by Charleston Southern with one second remaining to secure a 20-19 season finale win over Liberty, Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field.
The Flames pulled ahead for the third and final time of the day, when Alex Probert knocked down a season-long 49-yard field goal with 1:11 left to play in the contest. The field goal briefly gave Liberty (6-6, 2-3 BSC) a 19-17 lead.
Charleston Southern, who ran the ball most of the day (229 rushing yards/415 total offensive yards), picked up 41 of its 50 yards on the ensuring drive via the arm of London Johnson. An 18-yard strike to Kenny Dinkins set up Tyler Tekas' 42-yard, game-winning field goal into the wind to seal the victory for the Buccaneers (6-5, 3-2 BSC).
The contest marked Liberty's final FCS game in program history, ending the Flames' 30 year of competition at the FCS level. In three decades of play, Liberty posted a 184-152 record at the FCS level, recording a winning record in 21 out of 30 seasons.
The Flames moved up to the NCAA Division I level on July 1, 1988. Liberty won its first game at the FCS level with a 17-7 victory over Edinboro on Sept. 1, 1988.
The 2017 season served as Liberty's first year of a two-year FBS reclassification process. The transition began when the NCAA approved Liberty's waiver to move up to the FBS level on Feb. 16, 2017.
Liberty also wraps up its 16th and final season of play in the Big South. The Flames posted a 55-23 record since helping to found the league in 2002. One of four founding members of the football conference, the Flames won eight conference titles (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016).
Stephen Calvert finished his sophomore season at Liberty with a school record 3,363 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. His 29 scoring passes in 2017 also tied the Big South record set by Coastal Carolina's Tyler Thigpen in 2006. He finished the day completing 25-of-44 passing attempts for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
Antonio Gandy-Golden recorded his sixth 100-yard passing game of the season, finishing the contest with 10 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns. The Flames' limited rushing attack (51 yards) was led by Frankie Hickson, who rushed for 33 yards on 11 carries.
Johnson finished the day by completing 13-of-27 passing attempts for 186 yards, with 41 of the yards coming on the game-winning drive. Noah Shuler (13 carries, 84 yards) and Johnson (20 carries, 77 yards) shared the rushing load for the Buccaneers with both players recording a rushing touchdown.
Liberty's leading tackler Brandon Tillmon finished the contest with a career-high 10 tackles. The Charleston Southern defense was paced by Craig Johnon, J.D. Sosebee and Zane Cruz. The trio of players finished with nine tackles apiece.
Calvert's first intercepted pass in 18 quarters of football led to the game's first score. Late in the first quarter, the sophomore scrambled to avoid pressure and his sideline pass was picked off by Shadarius Hopkins at midfield.
The Buccaneers drove to the one-yard line and elected to go for it on a fourth-and-goal play. Shulers bounced right and score at the 14:06 mark of the second quarter. The 12-play, 49-yard drive gave the home team a 7-0 lead.
The score remained the same until the 5:32 mark of the second when the Flames tied the game on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Calvert to Gandy-Golden in the back corner of the end zone. The sophomore was draped by two defenders, but still hauled in his ninth touchdown reception of the season, thanks to the wide receiver's 6-4 height.
The lead looked like it was going to be short lived. Terrence Wilson burst through the line and scored from 75 yards out just 15 seconds later. However, instant replay ruled the freshman's knee was down when he made contact at the line and the scoring play was nullified. The score remained the same the rest of the half with the team's leaving the field at halftime tied at 7-7.
The Flames took their first lead of the game on their first drive of the third quarter, 10-7, scoring on a 27-yard field goal by Probert at the 9:28 mark. The 13-play, 75-yard drive was kept alive by two key third-down plays. The Flames benefited from a pass interference call on a third-and-seven play, while Calvert threaded a 23-yard pass to Cephas Reddick on a third-and-20 play to get into Buccaneer territory.
The Buccaneers tried to respond on the following drive, getting deep into Flames' territory. However, Wilson fumbled on a third-and-four play from the Flames' 21-yard line and Chris Turner jumped on the turnover.
The play seemed to shift the game's momentum to the Flames, as a six-play, 83-yard scoring drive that was bookend by Gandy-Golden receptions extended the Liberty advantage.
The sophomore started the drive with a 33-yard catch at midfield and scored for the second time of the game on 10-yard route over the middle of the field. After the extra point was blocked, Liberty held a 16-7 lead with 2:42 left in the third.
However, the Buccaneers scored on their next two possessions to regain the lead, 17-16, with 6:56 to play in the fourth quarter. Johnson capped a nine-play, 73-yard drive with an eight-yard rushing touchdown, while a 24-yard field goal by Tekac put the home team up by one, setting the stage for the game's dramatic finish.
The Flames will return to Williams Stadium on Sept, 1, 2018, when they play their first-ever FBS game by hosting Old Dominion. The Monarchs will be the first of four FBS teams to come to Lynchburg in 2018. They will be joined by North Texas (Sept. 22), Troy (Oct. 13) and New Mexico State (Nov. 24).
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