Growing pains

Flames suffer worst home loss of Turner Gill’s career

Underperformance was the name of the game Saturday, Sept. 25 as the No. 3 Jacksonville State Gamecocks (3-1) traveled to Williams Stadium and defeated the Liberty Flames (1-3) by a score of 48-19.

Missed tackles and ineffective offense plagued the Flames as the Gamecocks rushed for a total of 339 yards, four touchdowns and three rushes of 76, 57 and 87 yards.

“They beat us,” Liberty Head Coach Turner Gill said. “They deserved to win. They were the better team tonight.”

The Flames only totaled 44 rushing yards and 137 passing yards in the game as the Gamecocks snapped the Flames six-game winning streak at Williams Stadium.

With a quarterback battle brewing between junior Stephon Masha and true freshman Buckshot Calvert, Gill went with Masha to start the game, but after multiple series for each, stuck with Calvert for the second half.

QUARTERBACK WOES — Buckshot Calvert came in to replace starting quarterback Stephon Masha during the first half. Photo credit: Michela Diddle

QUARTERBACK WOES — Buckshot Calvert came in to replace starting quarterback Stephon Masha during the first half. Photo credit: Michela Diddle

Gill said his plan was to give Masha and Calvert each two series and then he would decide who he wanted to lead the offense for the remainder of the game.

The Gamecocks defense overpowered the Flames offensive line, sacking Calvert six times and holding the Flames quarterbacks to 12 completions with only five coming before halftime.

When Liberty did possess the ball, the Flames running backs struggled to find any holes in the Gamecock defense, consistently being tackled for a loss. The Flames offense stalled throughout the game, forcing the punt team on the field 12 times.

“We were not able to move the football, and it wasn’t all the quarterback,” Gill said. “We weren’t able to run the football at all. Their D-line beat our offensive line. We could not run the football. We could not get into a rhythm of anything.”

After the Flames punted on the first series of the game, the Gamecocks got on the board early 7-0 with a touchdown pass from Jacksonville State redshirt senior quarterback Eli Jenkins to junior running back Roc Thomas on a 73-yard, three play drive lasting 53 seconds.

The Flames responded on their third drive of the game with a 31-yard field goal to take the game to 7-3 after Jenkins’ pass was intercepted by Flames junior cornerback Tyrin Holloway.

The Gamecocks offense returned to the field with 6:19 left in first quarter and scored a touchdown on the third play of the series — a 76-yard rush to the left and across the middle by Jenkins, making the score 14-3.

The Flames and Gamecocks traded punts for the next few series until junior Liberty punter Trey Turner came on the field once again with 9:24 left in the second quarter.

Gamecocks redshirt senior Josh Barge fielded Turner’s punt and ran past Liberty’s punt coverage team for a 75-yard touchdown.

The extra point was missed by Jacksonville State, taking the lead to 20-3.

But the Gamecocks were not done in the first half. With 1:21 left in the half, Barge caught a Jenkins pass for 29 yards down to the Flames 1-yard line.

A quarterback keeper by Jenkins took the Gamecock lead to 27-3 heading into halftime.

The Flames struggled to force a Gamecock third down as Jacksonville State consistently moved the ball down the field almost effortlessly.

Yet junior safety Solomon McGinty said he pushed his defense to get the offense the ball back.

“I told my defense no matter what our offense (does), we have to go out there (and) get a three and out — no matter where the ball is,”McGinty said.

In the third quarter, the Flames held the Gamecocks scoreless while putting one touchdown on the scoreboard — a deep pass from Calvert to senior wide receiver Dante’ Shells with 1:38 left in the third quarter.

Still the Gamecocks applied the pressure to the Flames and tacked on two more touchdowns to extend the lead to 41-10.

Thomas ran the ball in from the 2-yard line, following his previous 57-yard run for the first touchdown of the fourth quarter.

Jenkins then threw a deep pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Shaq Davidson for a one-play drive and touchdown.

As the clock continued to run out, the Flames got a safety on a bad snap by the Gamecocks on a punt and a four-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back Frankie Hickson, but the Gamecocks further secured the victory with an 87-yard touchdown run by redshirt junior running back Justice Owens with 1:27 left in the game, taking the final score to 48-19.

Long plays by the Gamecocks accounted for five Jacksonville State touchdowns, and the Flames had no answer.

Yet Flames senior linebacker Dexter Robbins remained positive about the opportunities the Flames have had to play teams such as Virginia Tech, SMU and Jacksonville University.

“These games right here are designed to get us prepared for the best competition that’s out there — to see what it’s like to play the best,” Robbins said.

Though disappointed with the final score, Gill and Robbins are looking forward to the chance for the Flames to face Big South competition in the coming weeks.

“What I would say in this situation is don’t worry about us,” Robbins said. “We’re gonna be alright. There’s gonna be a good turnaround quickly.”

The Flames take on Robert Morris Saturday, Oct. 1 as they continue to look to prepare themselves before Big South Conference play, which begins Oct. 15 versus Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. in Williams Stadium.

RODRIGUEZ is the editor-in-chief.

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