It was a sea of red at Williams Stadium Saturday evening as Liberty University fans came out in droves to root on the Flames football team in their home opener against the Spartans of Norfolk State.
Flames Head Coach Turner Gill made his home debut before a crowd of more than 15,000. Liberty fell just a yard short of a touchdown in the closing seconds that would have given them a chance at a tie game. The Spartans secured a 31-24 victory.
For the students, the action began the day before as they camped out near the student entrance to the stadium Friday night, a Liberty tradition with a new name this year, “Gillville.”
The pre-game festivities continued Saturday with tailgate parties. Fans braved the rains and played lawn games, enjoyed grilled food, and began generous applications of red body paint.
Junior Devin Carroll has been tailgating at every home game since he was a freshman. He said he loves the atmosphere and takes great pride in his school.
“I love my school, I come out and support them,” Carroll said. “There is nothing that gets you pumped up more than watching them score a touchdown.”
Liberty’s campus was struck with football fever all day, and anticipation only increased as kickoff approached. Tents and inflatables surrounded the stadium, offering fans plenty to keep occupied before heading to the bleachers.
The Flames charged their home turf behind Gill for the first time in style, through a cloud of smoke, with fire igniting in the background.
Energized by the crowd, Liberty took an early lead and looked strong throughout the first half, entering the break up 17-7.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his wife, Becki, always eager to interact with the student body, invited a group of students to their skybox to enjoy part of the third quarter in style.
Freshman Taylor McCallman enjoyed the atmosphere at his first game as a college student, and was even more thrilled when he was invited up to Falwell’s box.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It is loud here, everyone is your friend, nobody is a stranger (including the Falwells).”
Though the Flames came up short in the scorebooks, the night ended with a bittersweet dose of excitement: a heart-stopping drive in the final seconds and an explosive fireworks finale.
Liberty, now 0-2, heads to Missoula, Mont., Sept. 15 to face the Montana Grizzlies. They defend their home turf next on Sept. 22 against Lehigh, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.