Football claims CUSA Championship homefield advantage with 56-30 Homecoming win

The Flames hosted the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Nov. 4 for the culminating event of Liberty’s Homecoming weekend. Liberty looked to remain undefeated and claim its ninth straight win in the new era of Head Coach Jamey Chadwell and starting quarterback Kaidon Salter.

After an opening field goal from the Bulldogs, the Flames opened their Homecoming contest with a dominant first drive, where Salter launched a pass deep downfield to his favorite big-play threat, junior wide receiver CJ Daniels, for 47 yards. The Flames followed that play up with a 12-yard run from junior running back Quinton Cooley and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Salter to senior tight end Bentley Hanshaw.

Up 7-3, the Flames held the Bulldogs to two punts on Louisiana Tech’s following two drives, which they then followed up with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped off with a touchdown from Daniels on a pass from Salter. 

With the lead having grown to 11, the Flames held the Bulldogs to another punt after a long and hard-fought possession. Liberty took over on offense at its 8-yard line and, after a few quality catches from senior wide receiver Noah Frith and some nice runs from Cooley, marched back into the red zone for a touchdown. A quick handoff to senior RB/WR Aaron Bedgood found him streaking into the endzone untouched by the opposition.

The Bulldogs had one more opportunity to score in the first half, and they would do so, finding pay dirt with a rushing touchdown to shrink the Liberty lead back to 11. 

The Flames began their final offensive drive of the half with just 1:45 left to play, but that wouldn’t be an issue for Kaidon Salter and Co. Liberty marched down the field off a string of quality passes, and timely penalties moved the Flames up to the Bulldogs’ four-yard line. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Salter hooked with Bedgood for the receiver’s second touchdown of the day. 

The Flames stayed hot in the second half, opening scoring with a 55-yard touchdown on 3rd and 12, courtesy of excellent route running and scrambling from Frith and Salter. 

The Bulldogs answered with a touchdown drive of their own, and the Flames’ lead dropped to 18 — but not for long. Liberty answered back swiftly with another touchdown, this time coming in the ground game on a run from Cooley, who was virtually untouched as he ran into the endzone.

The game may have been out of reach for the Bulldogs, but that wouldn’t slow their effort. After Cooley’s touchdown, LA Tech drove back down the field and scored its third touchdown of the outing, but after a failed two-point conversion, it trailed the Flames by 18 again. 

After scoring a touchdown apiece, and an intercepted two-point try from LA Tech, the Bulldogs drove to midfield with just over six and a half minutes left to be played, down 49-30. On 4th and 1, the Flames defensive line stood tall, and that would do it. The Flames defeated the Bulldogs 56-30. With that win, they clinched home-field advantage in the CUSA Championship game.

“I’m proud of our guys as far as securing home field advantage and getting a win,” Chadwell said. “But I’m embarrassed as the head coach of our performance, penalty wise, to be truthful, and it’s frustrating me. I’m not going to say tons about it, but we’re doing foolish things that are going to hurt us and hurt our program, and I’m disappointed in that. (I’m) thankful that our offense played really well and took care of the ball for the most part. We had one hiccup there, but anytime you can rush for 300 and about throw for 300, that’s a pretty good day.” 

Salter ended the evening with 297 yards and four passing touchdowns, with each touchdown finding a different receiver. Three of those touchdown recipients, Frith, Daniels and Bedgood, are members of the Flames’ WR corps, or as they call themselves, the “Touchdown Mafia.” 

“It’s TDM, man, Touchdown Mafia,” Frith said postgame. “We’re a brotherhood. I’m not going to say we’re the closest on the team, but I am going to say we’re the closest on the team because we all care about each other. We all want to see each other to do great. No one has any animosity in that room, we all want to see each other score, (and to) go in the game.” 

Frith, who ended with catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in the win, led the Flames in receiving yards. 

The Flames WRs have had one of their best seasons as a collective in recent memory, and much of that can be credited to the leap into stardom by Salter. Since the arrival of Chadwell, Salter has thrown for 1959 yards and has maintained an incredible touchdown to interception ratio of 23/3. 

“Oh, (Salter’s been) tremendous,” Frith said. “He puts in a lot more work nowadays. He’s not the same kid K-Salt he used to be when he first came in, when I first knew him. He takes stuff a lot more serious nowadays — he watches film, he really takes pride in what he does, you know what I’m saying? After practice he’s going to make sure that we go over more plays, make sure we throw the ball more, making sure he sees the look that he needs to see. So, seeing his growth has just been as outstanding. I’m just so happy for him, man.” 

Cooley totaled 179 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, making it the fifth straight week in which he’s run for 100+ yards and the fifth straight in which he’s scored a touchdown. Since transferring to Liberty from Wake Forest, Cooley has run for just under 1000 yards (981) and nine touchdowns, all while setting multiple single game records for himself. 

“Our run game is so hard to stop,” Frith said. “I mean, of course I want the ball more, but if we have three misdirections going each way, I’m always going to be a fan of that. They’re so worried about the pitches and the misdirections that they have to give (the wide receivers) one-on-ones, which they did tonight. I watched film on them all week, and they’re usually pressed every single play. I got pressed half the game and half (of) the other half was cover two. (All credit for that goes) to our running backs and our O-line just running the ball down their throats.”

The Flames tallied their ninth win of the season, and with that win, they clinch homefield advantage in their first of two postseason outings — the CUSA Championship game — before searching for a victory in their inevitable bowl game appearance. Next up for the Flames is an interstate opponent, the Old Dominion Monarchs, who are currently 4-5 and will arrive on the Mountain Saturday, Nov. 11. 

Palsgrove is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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