Second Half Push Falls Short for Flames at Ole Miss

Malik Willis, Sam Williams

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (7) is tackled for a loss by Mississippi defensive lineman Sam Williams (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

OXFORD, Miss. – The Flames had a chance to pull within a score late in the fourth quarter, but a third interception on the day ended Liberty’s rally as they fell 27-14 at Ole Miss, Saturday afternoon, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

       Down 24-0 at halftime, Liberty made the most of the game’s final 30 minutes. The Flames scored twice and held Ole Miss to just a field goal while continuing to push the Rebels for 60 full minutes.

       With Liberty driving inside the game’s final two minutes, the Flames found themselves inside the red zone for the third time in the game. However, Malik Willis’ pass attempt to Noah Frith was intercepted by Finley Noah with just over 60 seconds left in the game to secure the win for the home team.

       Today’s game marked the second time Liberty has faced a SEC team in program history. The last time the Flames took the field against a SEC team, Liberty dropped a 53-0 game at Auburn on Nov. 17, 2018.

       Ole Miss just edged the Flames in total offense on the day. The Rebels finished the game with 466 yards to the Flames’ 457 yards. Ole Miss gained most of its yards threw the air (324 passing yards), while Liberty moved the ball mostly on the ground 284 rushing yards.

       In a game featuring two of the expected top quarterback picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral finished the day completing 20-of-27 passing attempts for 324 yards and a touchdown.

       Liberty’s Malik Willis completed 16-of-25 attempts for 173 yards. The redshirt junior had his third three-interception game of the season and was sacked nine times.

       Shedro Louis led Liberty’s ground attack with seven carries for 101 yards and a score during his second career 100-yard rushing performance.

       Demario Douglas was Liberty’s top receiver on the day, finishing the contest with seven receptions for 56 yards.

       Storey Jackson, Liberty’s leading tackler on the season, continued to pace the Flames as he led the team with nine stops (four solo, five assisted), including 2.5 TFLs and 2.0 sacks.

Box Score Highlights:

Final Score: 27-14

Liberty (7-3)

Ole Miss (7-2, 3-2 SEC)

Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (Oxford, Miss.)

Attendance: 53,235

Turning Point:

       The Rebels’ first half defense kept Liberty’s high-powered offense in check during the first 30 minutes of play. The Flames came into the game ranked No. 16 in the country in scoring offense (37.4 points per game), but were held scoreless during the first half.

       Ole Miss continued to pressure Willis throughout the first 30 minutes of the game, sacking Liberty’s quarterback seven times.

       Willis was also picked off twice during the first half, including a late second-quarter drive that could have pulled the Flames within 10. Instead, Ole Miss used the giveaway, marching 70 yards on a five-play drive that took only 1:27 off the clock to take a 24-0 lead into halftime.

       After the Flames got their offense going in the second half and driving late in the game, Ole Miss’ defense stepped up again with two more sacks and a third interception during the final seven minutes of the game.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Quarter

·       Ole Miss jumped on the scoreboard first, needing two offensive plays to take a 7-0 lead. Following a short five-yard pass, running back Jerrion Ealy found a gap on the left side of the line, allowing him to break free for a 70-yard touchdown run 34 seconds in.

·       A pair of field goal attempts on the last two drives of the quarter allowed Ole Miss to take a 10-0 after 15 minutes of play. Liberty’s Brayden Beck missed a 38-yard attempt at 2:40, while Ole Miss’ Caden Costa connected on a 43-yard try at 1:22. 

Second Quarter

·       Another pass-run combination allowed Ole Miss to take a 17-0 lead with 13:13 left before halftime. Rebels’ quarterback Matt Corral threaded a 44-yard pass down the sidelines to Braylon Sanders, directly followed by a four-yard touchdown run by Ealy.

·       The game’s second turnover led to the final scoring drive of the half. With Liberty driving late in the quarter, Willis was picked off for the second time on the day. Five plays later, Corral found Dannis Jackson open for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give Ole Miss a 24-0 lead with 97 seconds left before the break

Third Quarter

·       The Flames broke through on the opening drive of third quarter, trimming their deficit to 24-7 with 10:31 left to play. Shedro Louis carried the ball up the middle and was able to get to the outside, scoring on a 28-yard run on the eighth play of a 75-yard scoring drive.

·       Ole Miss tried to answer on the next drive, but was forced to settle for another Costa field goal. The freshman’s 38-yard kick gave the Rebels a 27-7 edge at 6:49.

·       The Flames pieced together their longest drive of the game to pull Liberty back within two scored. Liberty finished off the 11-play, 73-drive when Willis scrambled for a three-yard score at 1:08 to play to trim Ole Miss’ lead to 27-14. 

Fourth Quarter

·       The Flames controlled the pace of play during the final 15 minutes while they pushed to rally for a road victory. Liberty outgained Ole Miss, 146 to 56, during the fourth quarter, but all three of the Flames’ fourth-quarter drives failed to add points to the scoreboard.

What’s Next:

       The Flames will close out their regular season schedule with a pair of home games in late November. Following its annual bye week, Liberty will host No. 24 Louisiana at Williams Stadium on Nov. 20. 

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