Fourth Quarter Push Gives Liberty Win Over Akron
A key defensive stop and a one-yard rushing touchdown by Dae Dae Hunter with under five minutes remaining gave Liberty the cushion it needed in a 21-12 win over Akron, Saturday night at Williams Stadium.
After taking a 14-0 lead just over 15 minutes into the game, the Flames struggled to find offensive consistency during the last 45 minutes of play.
Akron scored 12-straight points and nearly tied the contest early in the fourth quarter, but a failed two-point conversion allowed Liberty to maintain a slim two-point edge.
Akron outgained Liberty on the night, finishing the game with 321 offensive yards to the Flames’ 309 offensive yards.
Liberty had a balanced offensive attack (157 rushing yards, 152 passing yards), while Akron relied heavily on its passing attack (52 rushing yards, 269 passing yards).
Johnathan Bennett, Liberty’s third starting quarterback during the 2022 season, finished the night completing 13-of-27 passing attempts for 152 yards and two touchdowns.
Hunter posted his first 100-yard rushing performance as a Flame and the fourth of his collegiate career. The Hawaii transfer finished the night rushing 18 times for 118 yards and scored his rushing touchdown with 4:46 left in the contest.
Demario Douglas was Liberty’s leading receiving with five receptions for 40 yards. Jaivian Lofton added four catches for 47 yards, while Khaleb Coleman had two receptions for 31 yards and his third career touchdown reception.
Linebackers Ahmad Walker (four solo, five assisted) and Mike Smith, Jr. (three solo, six assisted) paced Liberty with nine tackles. The Flames finished the night with 7.0 tackles for a loss, with defensive end Durrell Johnson leading the way with 3.5 negative stops.
Box Score Highlights:
Final Score: 21-12
Akron (1-3, 0-0 MAC)
Location: Williams Stadium (Lynchburg, Va.)
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Akron pulled within two points of the Flames when DJ Irons completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Alex Adams. The Zips went for two, but Irons was stopped short of the goal line on his run, allowing Liberty to cling to a 14-12 edge.
The Flames’ defense held firm the rest of the quarter, allowing just two additional first downs on the Zips’ next four drives to give Liberty’s offense a chance to seal the game.
Punter Aidan Alves pinned Akron inside the 20-yard line twice, including one at the one-yard line that gave Liberty a short field on its next drive.
Starting at its own 48-yard line, Liberty kept the ball on the ground for eight-straight plays, including the game-sealing touchdown score by Hunter with 4:46 left to play.
A Liberty Win…
- Makes Liberty 8-4 in games immediately following a loss under Coach Freeze.
- Pushes Liberty’s home record to 17-3 under Coach Freeze and 22-4 at Williams Stadium since joining the FBS in 2018.
- Evens the all-time series between Liberty and Akron at 1-1.
- Marks the Flames’ third consecutive head-to-head victory over a MAC opponent, improving Liberty’s all-time record against MAC foes to 5-9, including 2-0 at Williams Stadium.
- Boosts the Flames’ record in September under Coach Freeze to 12-3.
- Gives the Flames their first-ever win at Williams Stadium against a team from Ohio.
- Is the Flames’ first win on Sept. 24 since 1988 (vs. Morehead State), snapping a five-game losing streak in games played on this date.
- The Flames wasted little time taking the contest’s first lead, as Liberty found the end zone on its first drive of the game. Bennett’s first completion on the night found Khaleb Coleman streaking through the back of the end zone, hitting the senior in stride for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 10:58 left to play in the quarter.
- The remainder of the quarter saw the teams battle for possession with each team turning the ball over. Akron nearly found the end zone, but Robert Rahimi intercepted his second pass in two weeks when he picked off the Zips’ DJ Irons. On the next drive, Akron’s Zach Morton sacked Bennett, who fumbled the ball away near midfield.
- The Flames doubled their lead on the second play of the second quarter, pushing Liberty’s advantage to 14-0 with 14:13 left before halftime. Bennett capped an eight-play, 68-yard scoring drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Treon Sibley.
- The Zips go on the scoreboard as the clock expired at the end of the half when Noah Perez connected on a 34-yard field goal. Akron’s nine-play, 61-yard drive took only 51 seconds and was aided by a 41-yard sideline pass from Irons to Shocky Jacques-Louis, who made an acrobatic catch to keep the drive alive.
- Perez pulled the visitors within a score, 14-6 when the freshman kicked knocked down a 26-yard field goal at the 7:19 mark of the third quarter. The 13-play drive was the longest of the game for Akron but marked the third time the Zips had been denied the end zone when entering the red zone on the night.
- The Zips capped off a 10-play, 48-yard drive on the second play of the fourth quarter to pull within two points, 14-12. Irons hit Adams in the corner of the end zone at the 14:21 mark, but he could not complete the two-point conversion run.
- All 61 yards of Liberty’s offense in the fourth quarter came on the ground, as the Flames rushed the ball 15 times, including an insurance one-yard touchdown run by Hunter with 4:46 remaining to seal the victory.
The Flames will open the second month of the 2022 season on the road for the first two games, starting with an in-state match-up against Old Dominion. Liberty has won the last two meetings in the series, with both games taking place in Lynchburg (W/ 52-10 in 2018 and 45-17 in 2021). The last time the Flames visited Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium was in 2013, when Liberty dropped a 21-17 contest on Oct. 5.
Date: Saturday, Oct 1, 2022
Location: Norfolk, Va. (Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium)
Radio: LFSN Radio (Flagship Station: The Journey 88.3 FM Lynchburg)
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. (EST)