Football imposes will over FIU with 38-6 win

The undefeated Liberty Flames traveled down to Miami for a conference matchup with the 3-1 FIU Golden Panthers. After a 24-17 win at UConn last week, FIU came home to host the red-hot Liberty Flames who, under Head Coach Jamey Chadwell, have not lost a game yet, stomping Buffalo last week 55-27. Sophomore quarterback Kaidon Salter was fresh off a career game at Buffalo in which he passed for 344 yards and five touchdowns, with zero interceptions on the season. 

The Flames received the ball to start the game and immediately went to work. After gaining three first downs on the drive, Salter found senior tight end Bentley Hanshaw for a nine-yard touchdown. After kicker Nick Brown’s successful extra point attempt, the Golden Panthers would get their first offensive drive. Senior linebacker Tyren Dupree did not take long to get involved in the game, sacking FIU quarterback Keyone Jenkins to force an early three-and-out. The ensuing Liberty possession would only take 54 seconds, as Salter found senior wide receiver Treon Sibley on a dig route, who went 68 yards for the Flames’ second touchdown of the night. 

The Flames defense would not budge on its next drive, forcing another three-and-out. With the ball back and all momentum on its side, Liberty’s offense looked to make more noise. Salter sent a deep ball downfield, which would be intercepted by FIU defensive back CJ Christian. Set up at their own 9-yard line, a ten-play drive highlighted by a 48-yard catch from receiver Kris Mitchell would result in FIU’s lone touchdown of the night. Kicker Chase Gabriel would miss the extra point wide left, leaving the score at 14-6. 

Photo by KJ Jugar

In the second quarter, with the Flames’ offense in a second-and-long situation, Salter managed to pick up the first down with his legs. Unfortunately, the quarterback could not hold onto the ball as he went to the ground, with FIU’s Hezekiah Masses right there to recover the fumble. Salter had two turnovers on the night — his first two of the season. 

After the Flames defense stuffed the Golden Panthers once again, Liberty’s offense put together a nice drive, capped off by a Billy Lucas 18-yard touchdown run. Lucas would finish the game with 102 rushing yards and one touchdown. Liberty junior cornerback Kobe Singleton was the next Flame to make a highlight play, as he intercepted Jenkins and gave the ball back to Liberty, which led to a Brown field goal. 

Before the first half could end, the Golden Panthers managed to turn the ball over one more time. This time, it was a Jenkins fumble, recovered by standout senior defensive tackle Kendy Charles. Charles had missed the first three games of the season with an injury, but finished Saturday’s game with five tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery. The score at the end of the first half was 24-6 with Liberty in front. 

Photo by KJ Jugar

After FIU turned the ball over on downs to open the second half, Salter and his offense continued pushing. Balanced with run and pass, the success of Liberty’s run game enabled Salter to score on an option play, giving Liberty a 31-6 lead over the Golden Panthers.

On the ensuing offensive drive, Flames junior running back Quinton Cooley had his best drive of the night. With a mix of rushing and receiving, Cooley racked up 54 of his 102 yards on this drive. Cooley’s success opened up the read option for Salter, who took the ball past the right pylon for his second rushing touchdown of the night. Salter finished the game with 77 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, trampling the Panther 38-6 on homecoming weekend.

Liberty’s offense was able to rack up 364 rushing yards, which was split between eight different rushers — two of whom broke the 100-yard mark. The Golden Panthers fall to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in Conference-USA play, while Liberty stays perfect on the season, improving to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the C-USA. After a well-deserved bye week the Flames will be back at Williams Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 5 for their first Midweek on the Mountain game in program history, hosting the Sam Houston Bearkats at 7 p.m. 

Weissinger is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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