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Liberty Jumps in Front Early, Goes on to Bury Presbyterian
It was an odd scene Saturday evening. As Liberty finished a 55-19 thrashing of winless Presbyterian, avenging the loss from last season that cost the Flames a berth in the FCS playoffs, the crowd at Williams Stadium looked much like the one that shows up Friday nights for LCA games.
With 2:55 left in the second quarter, SirChauncey Holloway bounded in from four yards out to put the Flames up 28-3. A light drizzle began to fall, and the stadium emptied. Announced attendance was 14,197. But by the time the second half started, there were maybe 1,000 folks left in the stands.
“I turned to Todd (Wetmore, Liberty’s director of athletic communications), and said, ‘it’s a mass exodus,’” Liberty coach Danny Rocco said. “I don’t know if it was that it had started to pour, but I was a little taken aback by that.”
Those who left missed an impressive offensive display by the home team, not to mention a mock fight between Sparky, Liberty’s mascot, and someone dressed like a very large, lumbering scarecrow.
The Blue Hose, who haven’t won a game since beating Liberty last Nov. 1 in South Carolina, stood little chance Saturday against a Liberty team that came in re-focused after a less-than-stellar showing last week at Charleston Southern.
Presbyterian (0-8, 0-3 Big South) committed four turnovers, flubbed a snap on a punt and went 1-for-5 on fourth-down tries. And 23rd-ranked Liberty (6-2, 3-0) took advantage of nearly every mistake to run its Big South win streak to 14 games.
That was a big difference between this week and last. Several CSU blunders gave the Flames short fields to work with, but Liberty failed to capitalize. Liberty scored three times on drives of fewer than 15 yards, giving the Flames plenty of cushion.
“That was a big emphasis this week was to finish,” Liberty quarterback Tommy Beecher said. “If we could have converted on a couple of the short fields last week, it really could have changed the game. It really built momentum for Charleston Southern when they got those stops. The defense has been real good for us all year. It makes it a lot easier for us when you only have 20 or 30 yards to go to score.”
The game was a thorough mismatch, and by the time Holloway scored his second touchdown in the fourth quarter, putting Liberty up 55-5, the Flames lineup was sprinkled with second- and third-team players.
“We had guys make some mistakes and it led to big plays for Liberty,” PC coach Harold Nichols said. “Young football teams do that. They have mistakes and they cost your football team. We’ve got to learn from them and we’ve got to grow up.”
One criticism LU coach Danny Rocco had of his offense after last week’s win at CSU was that it had become too predictable. There was no such problem Saturday.
On Liberty’s first drive, Beecher — who threw two touchdown passes and ran for another — dropped back and hit tight end Will Quarles on a deep vertical pattern for a 37-yard gain, setting up a three-yard Aldreakis Allen TD run. During film study, the LU coaching staff noticed that PC’s safeties didn’t defend the deep pass well, so the Flames took some deep shots inside.
Later, Beecher rolled right on an apparent bootleg, but stopped and threw back to Quarles in the left flat for a 6-yard touchdown that put the Flames up 21-3. Quarles later caught an 8-yard TD pass, giving him three in the last two weeks.
“The coaches are just giving me the chances to go out and use my God-given talent,” Quarles said. “I go out and do the best that I can.”
Liberty’s run game, which struggled last week at CSU, got back on track, as Holloway and Allen each broke the 90-yard mark and scored two touchdowns. Allen said he felt no lingering pain from the shoulder injury he suffered last week against CSU, and he ran hard inside and out.
During the week, Nichols tried to sell his team on the fact that this was a different year and a different set of teams, and that last year’s game had no bearing on this week’s result.
Liberty’s coaching staff took the opposite tack, selling last year’s game result all week as motivation. After the game, linebacker Wes Cheek was able to rattle off all the long plays PC ran against the Flames last November in South Carolina, as the result and the game film was tattooed in his brain.
“I wouldn’t say it was in the back of our minds,” Cheek said. “It was right in the front; 31-28 was everywhere.”
And now, it’s a distant memory.
Liberty jumps in front early, goes on to bury Presbyterian
By CHRIS LANG, The Lynchburg News & Advance