Liberty scored twice during the fourth quarter and used a pair of interceptions and a blocked field goal to secure a 33-17 win over Gardner-Webb, Saturday afternoon at Spangler Stadium.
With the victory, Liberty snaps its four-game losing streak and even its overall record at 4-4. The win also was Liberty's first during its final year in the Big South Conference (1-2). Gardner-Webb remains winless in the Big South, falling to 1-7 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
Gardner-Webb won several key statistical categories, outgaining Liberty, 483 to 458, rushing for 277 yards, converting on 8-of-17 third-down plays and holding a 33:04 to 26:56 time of possession edge.
However, Liberty kept the home team out of the end zone in all four of its trips inside the red zone, intercepted three passes and turned two of three interceptions into touchdowns.
As it has done most of the season, the Flames relied most on the arm of Stephen Calvert. The sophomore posted his fourth 300-yard passing game of the season, finishing the contest by completing 21-of-34 attempts for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
Liberty had its first 100-yard rusher since the third game of the 2017 season, as Carrington Mosley carried the ball 20 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt senior finished the afternoon averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
Damian King posted his first career 100-yard game, leading the Flames with eight receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Gandy-Golden surpassed the century mark for the fifth time in 2017, finishing the contest with four receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Juwan Wells and Jaylyn McKinney led the Flames with nine stops apiece, while Elijah Benton started his first career game and responded with a career-best eight stops.
Jeremy Peters finished the game with two tackles and three interceptions, tying the second most picked off passes in a game in Liberty school history.
Big South Preseason Player of the Year Tyrell Maxwell threw for 206 yards and a touchdown, but was picked off three times while completing 13-of-32 attempts. The senior, who had averaged 111.3 rushing yards per Big South game in his career at home, was held to 61 yards on 15 carries.
While the Flames contained Maxwell, they did allow Jayln Cagle to rush for 179 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He averaged 7.5 yards per rushing attempt.
Brody Rollins finished as Gardner-Webb's leading receiver with three receptions for 60 yards, while Corey Horne was the Runnin' Bulldogs' top defender with 10 tackles.
The Flames were the first team to put points on the scoreboard late in the first quarter, taking a 6-0 lead at the 4:30 mark. Calvert completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Gandy-Golden off a play action pass, finishing off a four-play, 52-yard scoring drive. Alex Probert missed his second extra point attempt in two weeks, keeping the contest a six-point game.
Liberty looked like it was going to extend its lead on its next drive when Frankie Hickson scored from 12 yards out at the 12:34 mark of the second quarter. However, the play was negated due to a holding penalty. On the game's next play, Cephas Reddick took a screen pass over the middle and got to the one-yard line, but the redshirt junior lost control of the ball which was recovered by Corey Horne in the end zone to keep the score the same.
The turnover sparked Gardner-Webb's offense, as the Runnin' Bulldogs took their first lead of the game following an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Maxwell completed all three of his pass attempts during the 4:17 minute drive, including a 40-yarder over the middle of the field to a wide open Brody Rollins with 8:17 left before halftime for a touchdown.
Trey Turner's 64th career punt inside the opponent 20-yard line helped the Flames regain the lead with 1:36 left before halftime. The redshirt senior's third punt of the afternoon pinned Gardner-Webb at its own four-yard line and the Runnin' Bulldogs were forced to punt following a three-and-out series deep in their own territory.
A 31-yard punt by Andrew Komornik was returned seven yards by D.J. Stubbs to the Gardner-Webb 32-yard line. Back-to-back completions to King, including a 22-yard scoring pass over the middle, gave Liberty a 12-7 heading into the locker room at halftime after a failed two-point conversion attempt.
Gardner-Webb drove the length of the field on the opening drive of the third quarter only to have Peters intercept a Maxwell pass in the end zone. The Flames' up-tempo offense quickly moved downfield thanks a 22-yard pick-up by King and a 33-yard reception by Gandy-Golden. The fifth play of the 80-yard drive was a one-yard rushing touchdown by Mosley to push Liberty's lead to 19-7 at the 9:50 mark of the third.
The Bulldogs kept the ball on the ground for nine plays of the following 11-play drive, getting into the red zone for the third time on the day. However, Liberty's defense kept the Runnin' Bulldogs out of the end zone for the third time when getting into the red zone, thanks to a Solomon McGinty and Dia'Vante Brown sack. The loss yardage forced Gardner-Webb to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Paul Schumacher, trimming the host's deficit to 19-10 at 5:36.
The Runnin' Bulldogs pulled within two, 19-17, when they elected to go for it on a fourth-and-four play on the second play of the final quarter. Jayln Cagle burst through the line and scored on a 37-yard touchdown run, to cap an 81-yard scoring drive with 14:07 left to play.
The Flames responded with a back-breaking 16-play, 97-yard scoring drive that included three third-down conversions. Mosley pushed himself over the 100-yard mark by picking up 40 of his rushing yards on the drive, including a one-yard run up the middle with 8:47 left to play, pushing Liberty's lead to 26-17.
Gardner-Webb once again drove deep into Liberty territory on the following drive, but was stopped at the Flames' 13-yard line. Schumacher, who missed a 31-yard field goal try in the first quarter, had another 31-yard try blocked by Dia'Vante Brown to keep the score the same.
Following a Liberty three-and-out series, Gardner-Webb tried to rally one last time, but Peters intercepted Maxwell's pass attempt and returned it 15 yards for a score to seal Liberty's victory with 2:38 left to play in the fourth.
The Flames return to Lynchburg next weekend when they step out of Big South action to host Duquesne. Liberty's final non-conference game as a FCS programs kicks off at 3:30 p.m. from Williams Stadium.
Photos provided by Jeff Sochko:
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