No. 5/7 Jacksonville State scored 24 unanswered points during the second and third quarters, propelling the Gamecocks to a 31-10 win over No. 16 Liberty, Saturday night at Burgess-Snow Field.
Liberty owned a 3-0 advantage at the end of the first quarter before the Gamecocks reeled off the game's next 24 points, much to the delight of a stadium-record 23,944 fans in attendance.
Jacksonville State (2-1) improves to 4-0 all-time against the Flames with its second win over Liberty in as many years. The Gamecocks also extended a couple of impressive streaks. Jacksonville State has now won 18 straight regular-season home games and 33 straight regular-season contests against non-FBS foes.
Liberty falls to 3-1 on the season with its sixth straight loss to an Ohio Valley Conference opponent. After posting 500+ offensive yards in each of its first three games, the Flames were limited to 316 yards on Saturday, including only 31 on the ground.
Flames sophomore quarterback Stephen Calvert finished 22-of-47 passing attempts for 285 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Antonio Gandy-Golden caught seven passes for 126 yards, marking his third 100-yard game of the year. B.J. Farrow added six catches for 93 yards and a score, putting the redshirt junior over 1,000 receiving yards for his career.
Defensively, Juwan Wells and Rion Davis paced the Flames with seven tackles apiece. Solomon McGinty added 2.5 tackles for a loss and his first interception of the season.
Bryant Horn was the most effective of Jacksonville State's quarterbacking duo, throwing for 181 yards on 9-of-19 with one touchdown and one pick.
Thomas' ground efforts for the Gamecocks netted 87 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
After kickoff was delayed approximately one hour due to lightning in the area, three of the evening's first four drives resulted in a three-and-out. Liberty then got on the scoreboard first when Alex Probert's 28-yard field goal split the uprights with 1:57 remaining in the first quarter. The Flames' scoring drive saw Calvert complete all seven of his pass attempts, including a key 22-yard completion to Damian King on 2nd and 15.
Playing its home opener, the Gamecocks did not pick up their initial first down of the contest until the first quarter's final play. Liberty outgained its hosts, 112-29, during the first 15 minutes of action. Calvert was 13-of-16 passing for 100 yards in the period.
Jacksonville State scored the game's first touchdown at 11:02 of the second quarter, when Horn found Trae Berry over the middle on the first play of the drive. Berry scampered 80 yards to paydirt, giving the Gamecocks their first lead of the night, 7-3.
Taking advantage of a short field, Jacksonville State extended its advantage to 10-3 on Cade Stinnett's career-long 49-yard field goal, 1:20 before halftime. The Gamecocks started the drive at Liberty's 48 following the Flames' third punt of the quarter.
Calvert hit Gandy-Golden for a 55-yard completion on the first half's final play, but time ran out on the Flames. Liberty trailed 10-3 at the intermission despite owning significant advantages in first downs (9-4), offensive plays (39-24) and time of possession (19:25-10:35).
Calvert ended the first half completing 16-of-23 passes for 175 yards. Gandy-Golden hauled in five of those passes for 103 yards. Meanwhile, 80 of the Gamecocks' 147 yards before halftime came on Berry's touchdown reception.
Jacksonville State opened the second half with its most impressive possession of the game up to that point. Thomas carried tacklers into the end zone on an 11-yard run, capping off the home team's eight-play, 81-yard drive. The PAT made it Jacksonville State 17, Liberty 3, just 3:01 into the third quarter.
One play after the game's first turnover, a Marlon Bridges interception of Calvert, Gamecock quarterback Kendrick Doss called his own number. The play resulted in a 15-yard rushing score, bolstering the Gamecocks' lead to 24-3.
Liberty's lone touchdown of the night came just 23 seconds later, on a 65-yard strike from Calvert to Farrow at 8:08 of the third quarter. Farrow hauled in a short pass near the sideline and sidestepped a would-be tackler before racing the rest of the way for his sixth receiving TD of the year.
The score remained 24-10 in favor of the Gamecocks, heading to the fourth quarter. McGinty came up with an interception early in the quarter, but Jacksonville State's defense stood firm.
The Gamecocks then sealed their victory with a backbreaking nine-play, 90-yard drive. Thomas finished it off with his second touchdown run of the night, a 13-yard score which gave JSU its final 21-point margin, 31-10.
The Flames will return to Williams Stadium for their next two games, beginning with a visit from Saint Francis (Pa.) next Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. on Hall of Fame Weekend.
Photos Provided by Dave Brandsma: