Third Quarter Surge Pushes ULM over Liberty


MONROE, La. – ULM erased a two-score deficit at halftime with 28 points in the third quarter and got a late fourth quarter field goal to secure a 31-28 win over Liberty, Saturday evening, at Malone Stadium.

       The Flames led 14-0 at the break, but the Warhawks scored four unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 28-14 lead into final 15 minutes of play.

       Liberty scored twice during the first half of the fourth quarter to tie the game, but a late drive set up a 53-yard field goal by Calum Sutherland with 1:44 left to go up 31-28.

       The Flames tried to quickly move down the field on the following drive, but quarterback Malik Willis was picked off for the third time in the game to end Liberty’s rally attempt.

       Willis finished the night completing 16-of-28 pass attempts for 135 yards and a touchdown. The redshirt junior also rushed the ball 23 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

       The three scores moved Willis into third place on Liberty’s career touchdowns responsible for listing. He now has 56 career touchdowns (34 passing, 23 rushing) in 17 career games played.

       Shedro Louis followed behind Willis with 11 carries for 35 yards and a score. Liberty’s leading receiver in the game was tight end Johnny Huntley, who had three catches for 31 yards.

       Defensively, the Flames were paced by linebacker Rashaad Harding. The former ULM player recorded a career best 15 tackles (three solo, 12 assisted) against his former teammates, including 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss.

Box Score Highlights:

Final Score: 31-28

Liberty (5-2)

ULM (3-3, 1-2 Sun Belt)

Location: Malone Stadium (Monroe, La.)

Attendance: 11,546

Turning Point:

       The Flames finally broke open a defensive battle with two scores during the second quarter, taking a 14-0 lead into the break following a Willis touchdown pass with 16 seconds left before halftime.

       ULM made the most of the halftime break, making offensive adjustments that allowed the Warhawks to score on all four of their possessions in the third quarter. The Flames came into the game allowing just 31 points scored in the second half during its first six games of the 2021 season, including only 13 points in the third quarter.

       The home team finished the third quarter with 179 yards of total offense to the Flames 36 yards, allowing the Warhawks to turn a 14-point deficit into a 14-point advantage during the 15-minute period after halftime.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Quarter

·       Both teams had extended drives on their opening possession, but neither team could punch it into the end zone during the first 15 minutes. Both teams had 14-play drive the first time they touched the ball with Liberty’s lasting 7:19 and ULM’s lasting 4:26.

·       The closest a team came to scoring was on a 27-yard field goal attempt by Calum Sutherland, but the senior’s kick was blocked by Liberty’s Aakil Washington and the Flames’ Skyler Thomas returned it to the ULM two-yard line. The Flames tried to score but were stopped on fourth-straight rushing plays.

Second Quarter

·       A pair of interceptions paved the way for the game’s first scoring drive midway through the second quarter. Willis was flushed from the pocket, resulting in his first interception of the game. However, Liberty regained possession two plays later when Daijahn Anthony picked off a Chandler Rogers pass over the middle at the ULM 20.

·       Liberty kept the ball on the ground for the next four plays, including a three-yard rushing touchdown by Willis at 5:11 to break the scoreless tie and give Liberty a 7-0 lead.

·       The Flames doubled the lead to 14-0 with a quick eight-play scoring drive just before the break. Liberty marched downfield 85 yards in 93 seconds that end on a nine-yard passing play from Willis to CJ Daniels with 16 seconds left before halftime.

Third Quarter

·       The Warhawks opened the third quarter with their most successful drive of the game, allowing ULM got on the scoreboard at 11:09. The 10-play, 73-yard drive ended when Rogers found Andrew Henry wide open on the near side of the field for a 12-yard touchdown play.

·       ULM tied the game just three plays later, aided by Willis’ second interception of the game. The redshirt junior’s pass attempt near his own sideline was picked off by Josh Newton and returned to the Liberty one-yard line. Abraham Alce carried the ball over the goal line on the next play, tying the game at 14-14 at the 10:12 mark.

·       The Warhawks took their first lead of the game just over three minutes later when Andrew Henry broke free for a 40-yard touchdown run. The longest rushing play of the game gave ULM at 21-14 lead at 6:37.

·       ULM capped off a 28-point third quarter, the highest by any time that has faced the Flames in 2021, when Rogers found Zach Rasmussen open for a 14-yard touchdown play at 1:22, giving ULM a 28-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Fourth Quarter

·       The Flames were able to get their offense back on track when Louis capped an eight-play, 65-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown at 13:42 to trim the lead to 28-21.

·       Following a pair of three-and-out series by ULM, Liberty was able to tie the game at 28-28 with 7:49 left when Willis broke free for a 53-yard touchdown run.

·       Three drives later, Liberty had ULM pinned near midfield, but Rogers get loose for a 12-yard gain on a third-and-18 play. The quarterback’s longest run of the game gave Sutherland just enough yardage for the kicker to sneak in the game-winning field goal with under two minutes to play.

What’s Next:

       The Flames will end a stretch where they play four out of five games on the road next weekend when Liberty travels to Denton, Texas, to take on North Texas. The contest kicks off from Apogee Stadium at 4 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on ESPN+ and LFSN Radio. 

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