Liberty Flames triumph over Buffalo Bulls in away game, 55-27
If there were any doubts that a Kaidon Salter-led offense could carry a team to victory, those doubts are now dissipated. The Flames quarterback drove his offense to a 55-point performance, embarrassing the Buffalo Bulls on their home field in an imposing 55-27 game.
“I’m very pleased with our victory today,” Liberty Head Coach Jamey Chadwell said postgame. “We started out well and we had some adversity, but we really finished well there, especially in the second half … There’s a lot of good things to clean up.”
Entering the Saturday afternoon contest, the Bulls were touted to be the most talented group that Liberty had faced to this point. Regardless, the Flames entered their first road game with a fire the Bulls could not contain.
After a field goal from Liberty kicker Nick Brown gifted Liberty an initial three points, the lead quickly expanded to 17-0, with Salter locating his offensive weapons for two touchdowns.
The first was a pass that soared over a Bulls defender right into the hands of senior receiver Treon Sibley, who sprinted into the end zone for the score. Sibley would go on to have a career-high day, with three receptions for 106 yards.
After Sibley’s catch-and-run, it was time for senior wide receiver EJ Smoot to get a taste of the action. Salter dropped back and heaved a 42-yard pass that dropped perfectly to Smoot for the touchdown.
“I looked back because I thought (Salter) was going to put it on me, but he had put it in the air longer,” Smoot said. “I had to put my head down and dig and go get it … I had to readjust and catch that. But it was a great ball.”
While the offense provided the initial spark, the defense would only ignite it, with senior linebacker Tyren Dupree snagging Buffalo quarterback Cole Snyder’s deflected pass and upping Liberty’s nation-leading number of turnovers.
“The coaches put us in a great situation and gave us a great call,” Dupree said of the interception. “I was just trying to execute. Good job by guys tipping it, too … Good job by the D-line.”
Dupree’s interception resulted in another Liberty touchdown, as Salter performed a picturesque dive into the end zone to extend the Flames’ advantage to 24-0.
That touchdown, however, would be the last from Liberty in the half, as the Bulls began to slowly peek their heads in the door and remind the Flames how dangerous they can be.
The final two drives of the half resulted in Buffalo touchdowns, and the encouraging 24-0 lead quickly became a two-score, 24-14 game. The conversation at halftime, however, was one that instilled confidence in the defense.
“At halftime, it’s just us knowing we could play way better,” Dupree said. “We always compete against ourselves; we never really look towards the opponent. We just try to always have our best game and put all four quarters together.”
Dupree led the charge in that effort, coming down with another interception just three plays into the second half. The turnover resulted in a Liberty field goal, which was soon followed by another touchdown toss to Smoot on the ensuing offensive drive.
The UT Martin transfer made himself known in the game, with four receptions for 99 yards.
“I just have to be ready for when my number is called, that’s all,” Smoot said. “We have a ton of playmakers, a ton of good athletes on this team … My number was called, and I was ready.”
Despite freshman running back Vaughn Blue exiting the game early with an upper-body injury and junior running back Quinton Cooley not being fully healthy, Salter certainly made up for it with his adroitness in the air.
The Texas native let it fly on the following drive, finding his roommate, junior wide receiver CJ Daniels for a stunning 75-yard touchdown.
“(Salter’s) arm is elite,” Chadwell said. “And this is probably the first time we’ve been around somebody in a while that has that type of strength and can really stretch the field. For him to be able to open it up and make some of those throws has been big for us.”
Liberty found the end zone one final time in the fourth quarter, as senior wide receiver Aaron Bedgood dashed 49 yards down the sideline to put a staggering score of 55-27 on the board.
For Salter, however, his day ended with 344 passing yards, 66 yards on the ground and five touchdowns.
“(At) the beginning of the game, there were just a little jitters,” Salter said. “I was trying to be too perfect on my throws and ended up overthrowing some receivers and missing a few reads … It all starts with my preparation. When I’m preparing and understanding the game plan, there’s nothing to be nervous about it. Just going out there and having fun at that point.”
In Chadwell’s eyes, however, he feels the ultimate 55-27 differential could have stretched wider.
“There’s a lot to correct,” Chadwell said. “Our effort’s been great. Our attitude and the belief of what our team believes in each other is good. We’ve got to just continue to execute though when it gets tight and execute at a high level.”
The Flames’ next opportunity to execute will come against the FIU Panthers next Saturday, Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in Miami, Florida. The game will be Liberty’s second against a Conference USA opponent.
Cory the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X