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Liberty Runs to 30-24 Season-Opening Win at WKU

September 19, 2020  Bowling Green, Ky.   RSS
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Postgame Quotes

Postgame Notes

Top Plays: Western Kentucky

Liberty opened its 2020 season on the run, rushing for an FBS-era-record 363 yards on the way to a 30-24 victory over Western Kentucky, Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. The game featured a pair of bowl champions from 2019, as Liberty won the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl over Georgia Southern and WKU won the First Responder Bowl over Western Michigan.

Malik Willis, making his first career start after transferring from Auburn, had a monster game for the Flames (1-0), with 133 passing yards (13-for-21) and 168 rushing yards and three touchdown rushes on 21 carries. His 168 rushing yards were the most by a Liberty quarterback in program history. Joshua Mack rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries, giving Liberty two 100-yard rushers for the second regular-season game in a row.

Liberty held a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter before WKU (0-2) came back to tie it at 17-17 during the early stages of the second half. The Flames' ground game took over from that point, leading to a pair of touchdowns that helped build a 30-17 advantage. The Hilltoppers drew to within six points with 3:04 left in the game, but Liberty ran out the clock to secure the victory.

The Flames outgained Western Kentucky 487-291 on the game, as Liberty rushed for 363 yards on 58 attempts. The visitors' 363 rushing yards were their most since rushing for 429 yards at Presbyterian, Oct. 13, 2012. WKU's defense allowed just 135.5 rushing yards per game last season, ranking 34th in the nation.

Meanwhile, Liberty's defense held its opponent below 300 total yards for the second game in a row, a stretch that included a 249-yard effort against Georgia Southern in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl.   

Box Score Highlights:
Final Score: 30-24
Liberty (1-0)
Western Kentucky (0-2, 0-0 C-USA)
Location: Houchens-Smith Stadium (Bowling Green, Ky.)
Attendance: 4,276

Turning Point:
With WKU appearing to have all of the momentum after erasing a 17-3 deficit, Willis reeled off a 51-yard run and Shedro Louis took it from there. Louis rushed three times for 39 yards on the drive, including a 29-yard rushing touchdown to give Liberty the 24-17 lead with 1:33 to play in the third quarter.

Following a Hilltopper three-and-out, Willis engineered a six-play, 57-yard drive, extending the lead to 30-17 with an 18-yard touchdown run with 11:43 remaining in the contest.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:
First Quarter

  • After a dominating first drive by the Liberty defense (three plays, -7 yards), Liberty quickly struck for a touchdown on its opening offensive drive. Willis went 2-for-2 with 44 yards passing and capped a five-play, 52-yard drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown.
  • Liberty tacked on a 24-yard field goal by Alex Barbir on its second drive, taking a 10-0 lead.
  • The first quarter saw Liberty outgain WKU 122-44 in total yards, and ended with the Hilltoppers driving in the Flames' territory.

    Second Quarter
  • WKU started the second quarter with a 43-yard field goal from Brayden Narveson.
  • The Flames answered with a touchdown drive to push their lead to 17-3. Willis rushed for his second four-yard touchdown of the game, giving Liberty a two-score lead with 10:15 remaining. Liberty's Barbir missed a 41-yard field goal attempt late in the second quarter, leaving the score 17-10 at halftime.
  • For the first half, Liberty held a 248-135 advantage in total yards.

    Third Quarter
  • The hosts tied the score at 17-17 on a 24-yard passing touchdown from Pigrome to Smith with 10:56 remaining in the third quarter.
  • Taking over at its own 15-yard line with 3:16 left, Willis' 51-yard rush spearheaded a four-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that Louis finished off with a 29-yard scoring run. Liberty took a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter.

    Fourth Quarter
  • Willis' 18-yard touchdown run put Liberty ahead 30-17 with 11:43 remaining, and Barbir missed the ensuing extra point.
  • WKU pulled to within six with a nine-play, 87-yard scoring drive which saw Pigrome find Craig Burt, Jr., for a 36-yard touchdown pass. Liberty ran out the remaining 3:41, gaining two key first downs during an eight-play, game-ending drive.


What's Next:
The Flames return home for the next three games, beginning next Saturday as Liberty hosts FIU (0-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Williams Stadium. 
Date: Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020
Location: Lynchburg, Va. (Williams Stadium)
Radio: LFSN Radio (Flagship Station: The Journey 88.3 FM Lynchburg)
TV: ESPN3
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (EST)