Liberty scored four rushing touchdowns, including two in the decisive fourth quarter, to secure a 33-14 win over VMI, Saturday afternoon, and claim the program's fifth Big South title in the last six seasons.
With the win, Liberty finishes the season with a 6-5 overall record and a 5-1 mark in Big South play. The 2012 Big South title was shared three ways for the second time in three years, as Liberty shared the conference crown with Stony Brook (9-2, 5-1 BSC) and Coastal Carolina (7-4, 5-1 BSC).
Liberty defeated Stony Brook at home last weekend to end the Seawolves' regular season campaign, while Coastal Carolina wrapped up its regular season slate today with a 41-20 victory over Charleston Southern at home.
Coastal Carolina was awarded the Big South automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA FCS Playoffs based upon a series of conference tiebreakers. The postseason invitation was ultimately decided based upon the Chanticleers' 3-0 record in Big South road games. Both Liberty and Stony Brook finished Big South play with 2-1 road records.
The win caps off Liberty's first season under head coach Turner Gill and pushed the Flames run of winning seasons to seven straight years. This year's senior class finished their careers at Liberty as the fourth winningest class in program history (29-15), three Big South titles (2009, 2010 and 2012) and a 20-4 Big South record.
Defense dominated the pace of play for most of the afternoon at Foster Stadium with it taking nearly 15 minutes of play before either team put together a successful drive.
The first 24 plays of the game resulted in a combined 60 total offensive yards for both teams and it wasn't until a turnover was committed that either team was able to jumpstart its offense.
After forcing its second consecutive three-and-out series, Liberty took over at its own 34-yard line with only 24 seconds left on the first quarter clock.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Woodrum tried to find one of his receivers over the middle of the field, but his deep pass attempt was picked off by Mike Smith and returned 22 yards to the Flames 32-yard line.
On the next play, VMI quarterback Eric Kordenbrock rolled out and found Aaron Lewis for his first career touchdown reception, giving the Keydets a 7-0 lead.
The Flames finally responded midway through the second quarter, as Liberty started to establish its rushing efforts.
Liberty kept the ball on the ground seven times during the nine-play, 51-yard scoring drive, capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by senior running back Sirchauncey Holloway with 2:30 left to play before halftime. John Lunsford's extra point attempt was blocked, allowing VMI to cling to a 7-6 lead.
The Flames quickly forced VMI to punt on the next drive and the Flames switched up their offensive attack to move the ball down the field during the remaining time.
Woodrum was 3-of-5 on the drive, starting with a 20-yard pass to Elliott Dutra and a 19-yard route to Jaquan Glover to penetrate the red zone.
Woodrum completed the seven-play, 64-yard drive with a darting pass to senior tight end Justin Gunn with 12 ticks left on the opening half clock. After the successful point-after attempt by Lunsford, Liberty headed to the locker room with a 13-7 lead.
Liberty led the first half, outgaining the Keydets, 178 total offensive yards to 107 total offensive yards. Both teams passed for exactly the same yardage total (114 yards), while Liberty rushed for 64 yards and VMI was held to minus seven yards on the ground.
Woodrum and Kordenbrock matched each other by each completing 11-of-17 passing attempts. Dutra was Liberty's leading receiver with four catches for 56 yards, while the Keydets had four players each have two receptions.
Holloway was Liberty's ground leader with 10 carries for 34 yards, while Derrick Ziglar was the lone Keydet to gain positive yardage (four yards) on his two carries.
Both sets of offenses continued to struggle to start the third quarter, with five straight three-and-out series that led to a combined 16 total offensive yards.
Back-to-back passing routes from Woodrum to senior wide receiver Pat Kelly helped record the first first down of the third quarter and start Liberty's first offensive push of the second half.
Aldreakis Allen then took over, carrying the ball three times to help the Flames widen their lead. Following a 31-yard pickup to the outside and a five-yard gain, Allen burst up the middle to score from six yards out.
The Flames went for two after the rushing touchdown, but Kelly was not able to catch the ball and stay in the end zone, leaving the score 19-7 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
VMI quickly answered and pulled back within a score on its next drive. The four-play, 75-yard drive was spotlighted by a 39-yard reception by Dexter Bridges and a pair of 15-yard penalties against the Flames.
Kordenbrock finished the drive and pulled VMI within five, 19-14, with a six-yard scoring pass to Mario Thompson with 1:54 left in the third quarter.
The Keydets continued to battle, but Liberty's ground game wore down the home team, as the Flames scored twice in the fourth quarter to finish off their Big South title run.
Seven rushing plays on a 10-play, 64-yard drive helped the Flames widen their lead with the seventh being a nine-yard burst by Allen with 5:36 left to play in the game to push Liberty's lead to 26-14.
On the second play of the ensuring drive, Kordenbrock was sacked by Toby Onyechi and the defensive lineman was able to recover the miscue to give Liberty the ball back.
Four plays later, Holloway capped off his days in a Liberty uniform with his 28th career rushing touchdown, a one-yard push up the middle, to seal the Flames' road victory with 2:43 left to play in the game.
Liberty led a balanced offensive attack during the 60 minutes of play. Liberty finished the game with 351 total offensive yards, 179 on the ground and 172 through the air.
The Flames held their fifth opponent in 2012 below 100 rushing yards, as VMI finished the game with an opponent season-low 26 rushing yards. The Keydets did move the ball on the day with 257 passing yards, the second most passing yards Liberty has allowed this year.
Allen became the 10th player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, as the junior finished the day with 15 carries for 99 yards to give him 1,019 rushing yards in 2012.
Holloway finished his Liberty career with 17 carries for 64 yards and two scores. For his career, the senior had 1,850 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns (28 rushing, two receiving).
Woodrum finished his first season under center for the Flames by completing 19-of-29 passing attempts against VMI for 172 yards.
Woodrum became the most successful freshman quarterback in program history, finishing the year with 1,963 total offensive yards. His 2012 total surpassed the previous record held by Paul Johnson set in 1986 (1,829 yards).
Dutra led the Flames on the day, capping off his career with a seven-catch, 76-yard effort against the Keydets.
Kelly, who missed the last two offensive series for the Flames with an injury, finished his senior year one reception shy of a single-season program record. On the day, he had six receptions for 44 yards, giving him 80 on the year (program record is 81 set by Pat Nelson in 1991).
Kelly did finish his days in a Liberty uniform as the fifth player in program history with 2,000 receiving yards. For his career, the senior had 162 career receptions and 2,107 career receiving yards. His career reception total ranks third in program history and his career yardage total ranks fifth in program history.
Liberty's active career tackles leader continued to finish his career strong, as defensive back Brent Vinson led the Flames in stops for the fourth time in five games.
The senior finished the VMI game with seven tackles (five solo, two assisted), completing his days at Liberty with 171 career stops.
Following Vinson on the afternoon was Kenny Scott, who had six stops (four solo, two assisted), and Scott Hyland (three solo, two assisted) and Jibrille Fewell (one solo, four assisted) with five tackles.