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Football Captures First-Ever Big South Title after Dominating 31-0 Win at Gardner-Webb

November 17, 2007  Boiling Springs, N.C.  RSS
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Liberty Flames - 2007 Big South Champions

Liberty Flames - 2007 Big South Champions

In a year which showcased the most potent offensive attack in program history, it was a stifling defense which aided Liberty's 31-0 victory over Gardner-Webb, Saturday afternoon, at Spangler Stadium, giving Liberty its first-ever Big South Conference football championship.

With the victory, the Flames cap off the second year under head coach Danny Rocco with an 8-3 record and an unblemished 4-0 Big South record to claim the title. Liberty's eight wins makes the 2007 squad the fifth team in program history to finish a year with eight or more victories and the first since 1997 when Liberty was 9-2.

On the third play of the game, Brandon Duke stepped in front of a batted ball by Pat Dickerson for an interception, recording Liberty's Big South leading 17th of the year. Following consecutive rushing plays, which pushed the Flames' Rashad Jennings over the 1,000 mark on the year, Liberty took to the air for three plays.

The trio of passing plays all went to Brandon Turner, each for double-figure yardage. The third and final strike was a 14-yard pass from Brock Smith to the senior receiver, who was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown with 11:38 left to play in the first quarter.

Following a three-and-out series, Liberty took over possession at midfield. And the Flames added to their lead on the first play, as Smith found Jennings open on a screen play. The running back got several key blocks downfield, including a field-opening hit by center Mike Godsil, providing him room to run for a 52-yard touchdown reception just 90 seconds later.

The Flames' offensive onslaught continued on their next drive, as Liberty added seven more points on the eighth play of the 5:12 drive. Smith rolled out inside the Bulldogs' red zone and completed his seventh-consecutive pass, this time to Chris Stokes in the near corner of the end zone for touchdown. The strike gave Liberty a 21-0 lead with 2:38 left in the first quarter.

The score remained the same until late in the second quarter, when Liberty pieced together its longest drive of the year, a 17-play, 72-yarder, which ate up 8:36 on the game clock. Noah Greenbaum knocked down his Big South-leading 15th field goal of the season, a 39-yarder, with 3:18 left to play before halftime, pushing Liberty's advantage to 24-0.

The Bulldogs pinned the Flames deep in their own territory on their first drive of the third quarter, as Michael Hanna's punt forced Liberty to start at its own four-yard line. However, Liberty pieced together a nine-play drive to push its lead to 31-0 with 8:43 left to play in the period.

A 33-yard rushing play up the middle by Zach Terrell gave Liberty its fourth possession inside the Bulldog red zone. Two plays following the lengthy bolt, Terrell was handed the ball again, this time cutting to the left and finding the end zone for a three-yard TD run.

The scoring scamper gave the junior his 16th-consecutive game with a rushing touchdown. The touchdown run also was the first rushing touchdown given up by the Bulldogs this year at Spangler Stadium.

Liberty finished the afternoon allowing its opponent a season-low 187 total offensive yards on 55 plays, holding the Bulldogs to 3.4 average yards per play. The Flames' smothering defense showed signs of last year's squad, which finished the year ranked No. 12 in scoring defense and held opponents to a school record for fewest points allowed in a season.

The shutout was Liberty's first of the 2007 season, after finishing the 2006 campaign with three shutouts. The blanking was the first time Gardner-Webb has been shutout since Sept. 27, 2003, at Furman, snapping a 51-game streak without being held scoreless. It also marked the first time since 1985 Gardner-Webb had been shutout at home.

Liberty dominated the game in almost every statistical category. The Flames outgained the Bulldogs by 282 total offensive yards (469 to 187), and finished with a 255 to 16 team rushing yardage advantage. Defensively, Liberty finished with six tackles for loss (29 yards), three sacks (26 yards), two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two intercepted passes.

Jennings posted his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season, leading all rushers with 114 yards on 26 carries. With his rushing total on the afternoon, Jennings finished the 2007 season with 1,013 yards, making him the third player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

Last year, Jennings led the squad with 1,020 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. The two other running backs in school history to accomplish the feat were Stacy Nobles (1,040 in 1998 and 1,175 in 1999) and Dre Barnes (1,304 in 2003 and 1,347 yards in 2004).

Terrell added 81 yards on nine carries with a touchdown, giving him 11 on the year and 26 for his career, which ranks second best in Big South Conference career annals.

Smith, who completed his first nine passes of the game, finished the contest with 204 passing yards. The junior completed 14-of-24 attempts to go along with three touchdowns. Smith, who finished the year with a career-high 2,226 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns, recorded his fourth-straight 200-yard game.

Turner capped off his Liberty career by catching four passes for 48 yards and touchdown. Wynton Jackson followed with three receptions for 18 yards.

The wide receiver duo finished off their Liberty's careers, as two of the top receivers in program history. Jackson finished his career with 1,923 receiving yards, ranking fifth best in Big South history, followed closely behind by Turner's 1,886 yards, which ranks seventh in the league record books.

Kent Hicks, playing in his first year at Liberty since transferring from Virginia Tech, led the Flames' defensive unit with seven tackles, his second-highest tackle total of the year. Duke followed closely behind with six tackles, including a half tackle for loss and an interception.

Despite today marking the official ending of Liberty's 2007 regular-season schedule, the Flames are one of several teams who are being considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division I FCS Playoffs. Liberty will learn its fate tomorrow afternoon when the NCAA Selection Committee announces the 16-team playoff field, live on ESPNU at 3:30 p.m. (EST).