Liberty recorded a season-high six sacks and 14 tackles for a loss to limit Gardner-Webb's offense en route to a 24-0 shutout victory over the Runnin' Bulldogs, Saturday afternoon, at Spangler Stadium.
The victory marked Liberty's first shutout since blanking Kentucky Wesleyan, 57-0, on Oct. 1, 2011. It also marked the first shutout of Turner Gill's eight years as a head coach.
Liberty has now won seven games in a row against Gardner-Webb, including four straight in Boiling Springs, N.C. During the Flames' four road games, Liberty has outscored Gardner-Webb, 141 to 31, on its home field.
The win evens Liberty's record at 4-4 on the year and 1-1 in Big South play. Gardner-Webb drops its third game in a row, falling to 4-4 on the season and 0-2 in league play.
The two teams traded possessions throughout the first quarter with the first eight drives failing to put points on the scoreboard.
The first scoring opportunity of the game came with 3:45 left to play in the first period. Liberty managed to cross midfield for the first time on the afternoon, but was stopped at the Gardner-Webb 29-yard line. John Lunsford was brought on to attempt a field goal, but his 46-yard attempt sailed wide right to keep the game scoreless.
The visitors were able to break the tie midway through the second quarter. Josh Woodrum completed a seven-play, 55-yard drive with his second rushing touchdown of the year, sweeping around the right end and scoring from three yards out to give Liberty a 7-0 edge with 10:08 left to play in the first half.
The Flames were able to double their advantage on the next drive, as Liberty got its passing game going on the five-play, 65-yard scoring effort.
Woodrum completed passing plays of 21 (Gabe Henderson) and 11 (Dante Shells) yards, setting up a Flames' trick play. Woodrum handed the ball off to Desmond Rice, who dropped back and found Darrin Peterson open downfield for his team-leading fifth touchdown reception of the year. The running back's touchdown pass at 7:09 of the second quarter pushed Liberty's lead to 14-0.
The home team had one scoring chance just before the half, when Gardner-Webb got to the Flames' 40-yard line with the clock winding down. The Runnin' Bulldogs elected to go for it on the fourth down, but Liberty recorded its fifth sack of the first half, keeping the Flames two touchdown margin at the break.
The Flames nearly doubled up Gardner-Webb during the first half, outgaining the Runnin' Bulldogs, 201 to 108 yards.
Liberty's defensive line dominated the first half, allowing Gardner-Webb to finish the first half with 13 rushing attempts for negative 19 yards.
Woodrum finished the first half 10-of-17 for 102 yards passing, while Gardner-Webb quarterback Lucas Beatty completed 11-of-20 attempts for 127 yards.
Liberty came out throwing on the first drive of the second half, as the Flames elected to pass the ball seven times during the 10-play drive. Woodrum was 4-of-7 on the drive, getting the Flames to the Gardner-Webb 28-yard line, before being sacked.
Lunsford was brought on for this second field goal attempt of the game and the sophomore tied his career high, putting the Flames up 17-0 with a 52-yard field goal at the 9:49 mark of the third quarter.
The Flames widened their lead just three seconds into the final quarter, when Brandon Apon caught his fourth touchdown pass of the year. The senior tight end's nine-yard touchdown reception near the end line of the end zone capped off a 12-play, 84-yard drive to give Liberty a 24-0 lead with 14:57 left to play in the contest.
Gardner-Webb had two scoring chances during the remaining minutes of the game, but both were thwarted by Liberty. The Flames were able to complete its stout defensive effort and shut out Gardner-Webb for the second time in the last four meetings at Spangler Stadium (Liberty also shut out Gardner-Webb, 33-0, in Boiling Springs, N.C., on Nov. 17, 2007).
The first time, the Runnin' Bulldogs managed to drive to Liberty's 19-yard line, but Liberty came up with its third fourth-down stop of the day forcing an incomplete pass attempt from Beatty.
Gardner-Webb's final scoring chance came at the Liberty 20-yard line with three and half minutes left to play. Jibrille Fewell forced a fumble on a handoff and Kenny Scott jumped on the loose ball to help the Flames preserve the shutout victory.
Liberty finished the game with 343 total offensive yards and limited Gardner-Webb to 230 yards. The Runnin' Bulldogs finished the game with 30 rushing yards, marking a new opponent season low and the third time the Flames have held an opponent below 100 rushing yards in a game.
Woodrum finished the game 18-of-31 for 199 yards with one touchdown pass. Beatty was 21-of-37 for 200 yards.
Rice was the game's leading rusher, finishing the game with 19 carries for 74 yards. Juanne Blount led the Runnin' Bulldogs with 11 carries for 42 yards.
Peterson was the game's leading receiver with six catches for 69 yards and his team leading fifth touchdown reception of the year. Deonte Swinton was Gardner-Webb's top receiver, matching Peterson's six catches for 50 yards.
Aaron Dial and Nick Sigmon led the Flames in total tackles, each finishing the game with eight stops. Three of Sigmon's eight tackles were for a loss, as he was one of 12 players that took part in Liberty's season-best 14 tackles for a loss.
Liberty also finished the game with a season-best six sacks, with Fewell, Toby Onyechi, Scott Hyland, Erwin Dessources, Cory Freeman and Chima Uzowihe all getting to the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage on the afternoon.
The Flames begin a three-game homestand next weekend when they welcome fellow Commonwealth opponent VMI to Williams Stadium. The Military Appreciation contest will start at 3:30 p.m.