Flames Rally Against Mean Green; Bowl Eligible for 3-Straight Season

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The Liberty Flames Football team held a spring game at Williams Stadium on April 12, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Manguiob)

DENTON, Texas – Down 26-14 midway through third quarter, the Flames rallied behind their returning quarterback and a special teams touchdown to secure a 35-26 win over North Texas, Saturday afternoon, at Apogee Stadium.

       With the win, the Flames (6-2) become bowl eligible for the third season in a row. Liberty is one of three FBS transitioning teams in NCAA history to become bowl eligible each of its first three full seasons at the FBS level (Appalachian State: 2015-20 and Marshall: 1997-2002).

       North Texas outgained the Flames in the game, finishing with 454 total offensive yards on 95 plays, the most gained by a Flames’ opponent in 2021. Liberty finished the game with 351 yards on 64 plays.

       Liberty did most of its damage threw the air, finishing the game with a season-high 351 passing yards.

       Malik Willis, who left the game in the second quarter but returned in the second half, finished the night completing 12-of-18 passing attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns. His passing yards moved the redshirt junior over the 4,000 career passing yard mark (4,013).

       Redshirt sophomore Johnathan Bennett took over the offense during the second quarter an completed 7-of-18 passing attempts for 88 yards and fourth career touchdown pass.

       CJ Daniels led all receivers in the game, recording his first career 100-yard game. The freshman finished the night with seven receptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

       Linebacker Rashaad Harding led all tacklers with 13 stops (eight solo, five assisted). Safety Javon Scruggs followed with eight stops (seven solo, one assisted), while adding one of two Liberty interceptions on the night.

Box Score Highlights:

Final Score: 35-26

Liberty (6-2)

North Texas (1-6, 0-3 C-USA)

Location: Apogee Stadium (Denton, Texas)

Attendance: 13,454

Turning Point:

       Following a bruising 14-play, 89-yard drive by North Texas to open the third quarter and go up 26-14 at the 7:27 mark, Willis returned under center after leaving in the second following an injury.

       The Flames’ offensive leader sparked his fellow teammates, guiding Liberty on a quick nine-play, 75-yard drive that took just 2:11 off the clock. Willis ended the drive with Daniels’ second touchdown reception of the night, pulling Liberty within five, 26-21.

       Liberty’s defense stood on the following drive, forcing the Mean Green to punt. Demario Douglas, a FWAA Freshman All-America punt returner in 2020, used a few key blocks downfield to record a 72-yard punt return for a score and give Liberty a lead it would never relinquish.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Quarter

·       North Texas was the first team to get on the scoreboard, taking a 7-0 lead with 6:04 left in the first quarter. DeAndre Torrey capped off a six-play, 37-yard drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown up the middle, his seventh rushing touchdown of 2021.

·       The Mean Green dominated the offensive stat sheet during the first quarter. North Texas finished the first 15 minutes of play with 151 total offensive yards (26 plays), while Liberty was limited to negative one yard on six plays. The Flames were also penalized four times for 33 yards.

Second Quarter

·       After the Flames forced a turnover on downs near the end zone, Liberty was finally able to jumpstart its offense. The Flames quickly moved down the field, finding the end zone on its longest scoring drive of the 2021 season (93 yards). Willis found Kevin Shaa open for a 27-yard touchdown pass to tie the game a 7-7 with 11:15 left before halftime.

·       The tie score was short lived as it only took the Mean Green three plays and 50 seconds to take a 14-7 lead at 10:25. North Texas kept it on the ground for all three plays of the 65-yard drive, including a 42-yard scoring burst up the middle by Ayo Adeyi.

·       The Mean Green would have the ball four more times during the remainder of the half, but Liberty’s defense was able to hold the home team to a pair of Aaron Beckham field goals (35 and 27 yards) to take a 20-7 lead inside the final two minutes.

·       Bennett entered the game late in the second quarter and pulled the Flames within six, 20-14, before intermission on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Daniels with 1:13 left to play.

Third Quarter

·       The Mean Green was able to push their lead back out to two scores on North Texas’ first possession of the second half. The home team pieced together a lengthy 14-play, 89-yard drive that took 6:06 off the clock. The drive ended on a six-yard touchdown pass from Austin Aune to Jason Pirtle at 7:27, giving North Texas a 26-14 lead following a failed two-point conversion.

·       The return of Willis to the Flames’ sidelines sparked Liberty’s offense to quickly respond on a 75-yard scoring drive. Willis finished off the nine-play drive when he hit Daniels for a 20-yard scoring strike at 5:16.

·       The Flames’ defense also responded by stopping the Mean Green on their next drive, setting up a punt, which Douglas returned 72 yards for a score. The redshirt freshman’s second career punt return for a touchdown gave Liberty its first lead of the day, 28-26, with 3:03 left to play in the third.

Fourth Quarter

·       Liberty put the game out of reach when they scored their third-straight touchdown to go up 35-26 at the 11:16 mark of the fourth quarter. Willis capped a 10-play, 97-yard scoring drive with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Shedro Louis.

·       The Flames put the game in the hands of their defense the remainder of the way. The Mean Green had four more drives that resulted in two punts, a turnover on downs and a missed 26-yard field goal.

What’s Next:

       After playing four out of five games on the road, the Flames will return to Williams Stadium next weekend to host UMass. Kickoff for Liberty’s final game during the month of October will be at 12 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and LFSN Radio.

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