Flames overtake Blazers in downpour victory 21-14
A downpour of rain was not enough to extinguish the Flames Sept. 10 as they overtook the UAB Blazers 21-14.
While both teams entered the matchup 1-0, the Blazers would come into Williams Stadium looking to erase memories of the past. Last year’s face-off between the two saw the Flames dominate the Blazers 36-12 in their first home game at their new Protective Stadium.
Now, one year later, the Blazers would try to spoil the festivities in Williams Stadium’s opener.
The Blazers’ defense came in hot, forcing quarterback Kaidon Salter to a three-and-out on the opening drive in his first career start. While the Flames’ defense would attempt to shift momentum early with a fumble forced by Durrell Johnson, Liberty’s next drive would usher the same result.
Both teams would go back and forth scoreless until late in the first, when a pair of explosive runs from UAB’s DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr. would find them in the end zone with a 7-0 lead.
When the Flames were in need of some life, Salter provided the spark. The first quarter ended with a 20-yard run from Salter, giving the offense a surge of momentum. An impressive completion to wide receiver Noah Frith would set Liberty up in the red zone, where Shedro Louis would finish the job with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Flames’ linebacker Mike Smith Jr. would keep things rolling, forcing Blazer’s fumble in the red zone and giving Liberty its third turnover of the night. Both teams went into the locker room even at 7-7 at the half. From then on, it was all Flames.
UAB’s first drive of the second half was stifled by Liberty’s front, forcing a turnover on downs.
Adjustments made at halftime by Liberty’s defense would ultimately prove vital to the team’s success. While UAB’s rushing attack was marching down the field early on, with 161 yards on the ground in the first quarter, the Flames would hold them to just 80 rushing yards on 33 attempts in the final three.
“We played a few more kids and tried to get some fresher legs out there because they were converting a lot of third downs and had to play a lot of snaps,” Head Coach Hugh Freeze said postgame. “I’m not going to say what our adjustments were, but we certainly made some at halftime on both sides. I thought they were both really good adjustments for us — obviously, helped us win the game.”
Liberty’s offense finally got things going late in the third quarter with an impressive drive resulting in a touchdown. An incredible catch by CJ Yarborough in a tight window set the Flames up in the red zone, allowing Salter to finish things off himself with a 2-yard rush for the score.
A Durrell Johnson sack on the Blazer’s next drive set Liberty up with great field position. The Flames capitalized, marching down the field and culminating the drive with a 2-yard rush from Dae Dae Hunter for the touchdown, putting his team up 21-7.
The Blazers’ final efforts to get back in the game would be squashed by the Flames’ front. Back-to-back sacks from Dennis Osagiede and Kendy Charles capped off the unit’s epic performance, bringing a roar from the crowd.
“Man, they played with such heart,” Freeze said of his defense. “That’s a really good offensive line, really good running backs. I thought we limited the explosive pass plays. They got theirs in the run game, but we sure bowed our neck too. I couldn’t be prouder of our coaches and our kids. What a great atmosphere on the Mountain tonight.”
While a late Liberty fumble would allow UAB’s Hopkins to find the end zone and make it 21-14, it would not be enough to catch the Flames.
Liberty’s defense headlined the night, finishing with four turnovers and increasing its total to nine through two games. This is the most turnovers by the Flames’ defense in back-to-back games since 2009.
“We just put a lot of emphasis on getting the ball out and punching the ball out in practice,” linebacker Ahmad Walker said. “You know, that’s something that we work on every day, every practice. We do that in pregame as well.”
Salter completed 13 of 25 passes for 202 yards in his first victory on the Mountain.
“I knew in the rain today that I couldn’t take those shots with a wet ball,” Salter said. “I wouldn’t have been able to get those rips in there and fit them in tight windows like I did last week.”
Where Salter lacked in the passing game, he made up for with his legs. He ended the game as the Flames’ leading rusher, picking up 79 yards and one touchdown. The offense appeared to play it safe, prioritizing the protection of the football.
“We’re playing with a quarterback that has relatively few snaps,” Freeze said. “So, you’re kinda hesitant to call everything. You don’t feel like you have to. You feel like, let’s just stay in the fight and manage the game.”
Despite the drizzling weather, Williams Stadium saw 18,892 fans show up with electric energy to kick off the home schedule. Liberty has now gone 18-2 in its last 20 home openers.
“I can’t say enough about our students,” Freeze said. “I thought they were absolutely incredible. Phenomenal. Better than any school I have been at. Our student body was that good from the start of pregame, throughout the game. I’m just thankful that our students show up and are so into it. They are the best.”
The Flames will now take to the road for their most daunting challenge yet, as they take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Sept. 17. Kickoff will be at 5 p.m. ET on the ACC Network.
Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter