Liberty, VMI, Stony Brook Win Big South Football Openers


A five-yard touchdown pass with just over five minutes left to play completed a second-half rally, securing a 42-35 win for Liberty over visiting Gardner-Webb and giving head coach Turner Gill his first victory at Liberty.

Down 28-10 early in the third quarter, Liberty scored 32 of the game's last 40 points to rally and post its sixth consecutive Homecoming victory.  The game was played in front of 18,239 fans, the fifth-largest crowd in Williams Stadium history.

The win ups Liberty's record to 1-4 on the season and 1-0 in the Big South.  Liberty has now won six consecutive Big South opening games.  The loss keeps Gardner-Webb winless in 2012 at 0-5 and 0-1 in League play.

Gardner-Webb wasted little time taking the game's first lead, scoring on its first offensive play of the afternoon.  Following a three-and-out series for Liberty to open the game, the Runnin' Bulldogs took over possession just past midfield following a 36-yard punt.

On the next play, Carlton Heard was able to find an opening in Liberty's defensive backfield where Lucas Beatty was able to loft a ball downfield.  Heard caught the pass and outraced the defense to score on a 54-yard touchdown play within the first three minutes of the game.

The Flames' offense used its own big passing play on the next drive to cut into the Runnin' Bulldogs' advantage and pull within four, 7-3.

Josh Woodrum matched his counterpart's deep pass when Liberty's redshirt freshman quarterback found Ryan Ferguson open 49 yards over the middle of the field on the first play of the Flames' next drive.

The Flames then kept the ball on the ground for eight of the drive's next nine plays and managed to get down to the one-yard line.  However, Tanner Burch and Azziz Higgins were able to stop Sirchauncey Holloway at the goal line to force Liberty to settle for a 22-yard field goal by John Lunsford with 6:05 left in the first quarter.

Gardner-Webb used a balance rush and pass attack on their its drive to widen its lead to 11 points, 14-3, during the closing seconds of the first quarter.

Beatty was 5-for-5 passing on the nine-play, 90-yard scoring drive, helping set up an eight-yard run up the middle by Juanne Blount with 1:36 left in the opening 15 minutes of the game.

The Runnin' Bulldogs used another quick stop and the same run-pass formula to push their lead to 21-3 with 12:24 left to play before halftime.

Following a 14-yard completion to Seth Cranfill, Beatty went back to the air and found Kenny Cook open for a 44-yard reception downfield.  Two plays later, J.J. Hubbard was handed the ball and the sophomore was able to find a hole open on the right side of the field to score from 10 yards out.

Big plays continued to factor into the game, as Liberty scored just seven seconds later.  D.J. Abnar broke a few tackles on the ensuing kickoff and nearly scored, but his 83-yard kickoff return was stopped at the Gardner-Webb six-yard line.

On the next play, Woodrum pitched the ball to the left to Aldreakis Allen, who recorded his first rushing touchdown of the season to pull the Flames back within 11 points, 21-10.

During the remaining 12 minutes of the first half, both teams had chances to score, but neither was able to capitalize.

With six minutes left to play in the half, Liberty managed to the Gardner-Webb 25-yard line, but Woodrum had a pass tipped and intercepted by Gianni Olivas to end the scoring chance.

On the next drive, the Runnin' Bulldogs managed to get the ball to Liberty's 14-yard line after an 11-yard pass from Beatty to Hubbard which left them one yard short of a first down.

Gardner-Webb elected to go for it on the fourth-down play, but Blount was stopped on the running play, giving Liberty the ball back and stopping the scoring effort.

The Runnin' Bulldogs more than doubled up Liberty's yardage during the opening 30 minutes of play, finishing with 330 yards of total offense to Liberty's 160.

Over 90 percent of Gardner-Webb's came thanks to Beatty completing 16-of-17 passing attempts for 301 yards.  The Runnin' Bulldogs had a pair of receivers surpass the 100-yard mark during the first half, with Heard (115 yards) and Cook (107 yards) each catching the ball five times.

Blount led Gardner-Webb's limited rushing attack, carrying the ball seven times for 27 yards.

Woodrum finished the first 30 minutes of play completing 11-of-15 passing attempts for 135 yards.  Ferguson was his favorite target with four receptions for 63 yards.

Liberty finished with four less rushing yards than Gardner-Webb, with Allen gaining all 25 of the Flames' positive yards on nine carries.

The momentum continued to swing in Gardner-Webb's favor to open the second half, as the Runnin' Bulldogs recovered a shorter opening-half kickoff to give them the ball.

After a 15-yard reception by Heard and an 11-yard run by Hubbard, Kenny Little was given the ball and he was able to score from one yard out to push Gardner-Webb's lead to 28-10.

The Flames' rally started on their next drive, thanks to three lengthy pass plays from Woodrum.  The third and final one was a play that left Pat Kelly open in the corner of the end zone on a 30-yard play to pull the Flames within 11, 28-17, at the 10:15 mark of the third period.

Following the first of three straight three-and-out series by Gardner-Webb, Liberty called a trick play to pull with three points, 28-25.

Woodrum once again completed three 10-plus yard pass plays to set up a 15-yard half-back play from Allen to tight end Justin Gunn to cap off a 10-play, 99-yard drive with 3:39 left to play in the third quarter.

The Runnin' Bulldogs' defense was able to keep the Flames from finding the end zone on Liberty's next drive, but not the scoreboard.  A 33-yard field goal by Lunsford with seven seconds left in the quarter completed the six-play, 48-yard drive and knotted the score, 28-28.

Gardner-Webb's offense was able to gather itself on the next drive and retake the lead.  Following pass plays from Beatty to Cook for 12 and 27 yards, respectively, Blount was handed the ball and scored from two yards out to give the Runnin' Bulldogs the temporary 35-28 lead.

The visitors' advantage lasted less than two minutes.  After Woodrum found Kelly open for a 19-yard sideline pass play, the redshirt freshman threaded a pass to Ferguson over the middle.  The senior raced downfield to tie the game, 35-35, on a 45-yard touchdown reception with 10:12 left to play in the game.

On the third play of the next drive, Walt Aikens, who was one of many Liberty defensive backs that had been bested most of the day by Beatty's arm, was able to create the first of two decisive turnovers.

The junior got in front of a pass intended for Cook and returned an interception 10 yards to give the Flames the ball back.

Woodrum once again completed three passes on the next drive, with the third being a five-yard play action pass to Brandon Apon that gave Liberty the lead for good, 42-35, with 5:11 left.

The Runnin' Bulldogs tried to mount one last effort to tie the game, but Aikens once again created a turnover, this one a forced fumble following a Cranfill reception, giving Liberty the ball back with less than three minutes to play.

The Flames finished with 348 of their season-high 508 total offensive yards during the second half.  Conversely, Gardner-Webb amassed just 151 of its 481 total offensive yards during the final 30 minutes of play.

Both teams used their passing games to move the ball up and down the field, with Gardner-Webb throwing for 383 yards and Liberty 388 yards.

Woodrum finished the afternoon completing 25-of-31 passing attempts for 373 yards, the 12th most passing yards in a single game by a Liberty quarterback.  The redshirt freshman also threw for a season-high three touchdowns.

For the 16th time in program history, Liberty had a pair of receivers surpass the 100-yard mark in the same game.  Kelly led the Flames with six catches for 123 yards, followed by Ferguson's five receptions for 108 yards. Both receivers finish the game with a touchdown.

Allen's second-half rushing effort allowed the junior to finish as the game's leading rusher with 17 carries for 97 yards.  Holloway followed behind him with 12 carries for 33 yards.

Beatty led Gardner-Webb's offense, completing 27-of-32 attempts for 383 yards and a scoring throw.

The Runnin' Bulldogs matched Liberty's receiving corps with a pair of 100-yard performers. Cook (7-146 yards) and Heard (7-137 yards) became the first pair of Liberty opponents to finish the same game with 100 receiving yards since 2003 against Hofstra.

Gardner-Webb rushed for four scores on the day and was led by Little, who carried the ball eight times for 60 yards.  Blount carried the ball 10 times for 32 yards and two touchdowns.

Burch finished as the game's top defender with 13 stops for the Runnin' Bulldogs.  He was followed by Brandon Swayze's nine stops and six different players who recorded five stops for Gardner-Webb.

Aikens was Liberty's top tackler, finishing the game with a career-high nine stops.  Kenny Scott, Nick Sigmon and Chris Mayo followed with a half-dozen tackles each for the Flames.

The Flames will hit the road for the first time in four weeks next weekend when Liberty travels to Clinton, S.C., to face Presbyterian College.  Saturday's kickoff at Bailey Memorial Stadium is set for 2 p.m.  Gardner-Webb returns home to host MidAmerica Nazarene at 6:00pm.

Safety Adam Morgan notched two interceptions, one in each half, to spark the VMI Keydets (2-3, 1-0 Big South) to a 17-7 win over the Presbyterian College Blue Hose in Big South football action contested Saturday afternoon in Lexington, Va.  The game marked the Big South opener for both schools.  PC falls to 2-4, 0-1 in League play.

Morgan picked off Presbyterian (2-4, 0-1 Big South) starting quarterback Tamyn Garrick on the Blue Hose final play of the first half, and would go on to intercept backup quarterback Kaleb Griffin midway through the third quarter.  The redshirt junior became the first VMI player with multiple interceptions in a game since Oct. 21, 2006, when Christian Kelly had three against Charleston Southern.

Logan Staib also had an interception, while Weston Reber recovered a fumble, as the Keydets won the turnover battle 4-1.  VMI also posted a season-high in time of possession, as they had the ball for 37:46 of game action, in addition to logging 25 first downs, also a 2012 best.  Twelve of the 25 first downs came on third down conversions.

Offensively, Jabari Turner had a career-high 71 yards rushing to go along with a one-yard touchdown run, while Eric Kordenbrock and Dexter Bridge connected for a 29-yard first half TD.

Clouds rolled into Lexington during warm-ups, but in a good omen for the Keydets, the sun broke through as the teams took the field for kickoff on the moderate early fall day.  The initial drives of the game were not notable, as the first four attempts all ended in punts, but the fifth was a good one for the home team.

A 10-play, 43-yard drive that included five Derrick Ziglar rushing attempts ended in points, as Jeff Sexton connected on a 19-yard field goal to give VMI a 3-0 lead, which would be the score after one quarter.

After a Blue Hose punt early in the second period, VMI would notch an 18-play, 49-yard drive that ate up an impressive 9:22 on the game clock.  The drive ended in a punt, but when VMI got the ball back just four plays later, the Keydets marched 66 yards in 10 plays.  On fourth down, Kordenbrock found Bridge for a 29-yard touchdown, and Sexton's point after game VMI a 10-0 lead with 1:01 left in the half.  Morgan then picked off Garrick on PC's ensuing try, and the Keydets took a 10-point lead to halftime.

The first half saw VMI hold Presbyterian to just 45 yards of total offense, as the Blue Hose had the ball for just 8:14 of game action, compared to 21:46 for the Keydets.

PC took the ball to start the third quarter, and went to its bench for backup quarterback Griffin.  After two plays, Griffin was picked off by Morgan at the Keydet 39, as the VMI defensive back intercepted a deep seam route for his second pick of the day.  The Keydets nearly took advantage, as Kordenbrock completed first down passes to Aaron Lewis and Mario Thompson, but a 43-yard field goal from Sexton was wide right, keeping the score 10-0, VMI.

The visitors then took the ball with 10:39 left in the third quarter, and put together their best drive of the day.  Two rushing first downs, as well as a Griffin pass to Arthur Williams, put the Blue Hose in position for their first points of the day.  They came away empty, however, as an Aaron Mayes kick sailed wide left to give VMI possession once again, and the Keydets would take advantage.

After five straight rushing plays to open the drive, Kordenbrock found Lewis for nine yards and one play later, hit his redshirt senior receiver for a 40-yard completion.  That gave the Keydets a first and goal at the 1-yard line, and Turner ran it in on the very next play to push the VMI edge to 17-0 with 2:44 remaining in the third quarter.

The Blue Hose tried to respond, as a lengthy drive moved them to the Keydet 15.  On third down from that yard line, however, PC was whistled for a 15-yard tripping penalty, and was forced into a field goal attempt from Mayes.  The try sailed wide left once again, keeping the visitors off the scoreboard.  Unfortunately for VMI, PC would intercept Kordenbrock on the next VMI drive, as Antarius Terrell picked off the VMI QB with 9:23 left.  The Blue Hose then marched 47 yards in just five plays, and Griffin found Jeremiah McKie for a 23-yard strike and a touchdown, making it a 17-7 contest with 7:41 to play.

After a Keydet punt, Presbyterian would get the ball back once again with 3:52 to go.  Griffin completed passes of 15 and 29 yards, both to Anderico Bailey, and after an incompletion, the PC quarterback found his target with a pass on each of the next four plays to move his team to the VMI 33.

Griffin was 6 for 7 on the drive, but on the eighth play, was hit by Shawn Chapman in the backfield.  The ball came loose and Reber recovered, allowing the Keydets to run a great deal of time off the clock and seal the victory.  Griffin was intercepted by Staib on a deep pass to close out the contest.

In addition to his fumble recovery, Reber had a career-high 10 tackles while James Fruehan posted 11, also a career high.  John Washington also became just the second current Keydet to post two sacks in a game, joining Chapman, who accomplished the feat last season.

The win was VMI's third in a Big South opener in the past five seasons, and fourth in six all-time meetings with Presbyterian College.  The Keydets are now 4-2 in Big South home openers, including three wins under current head coach Sparky Woods.

VMI football will return to action next Saturday, as the Keydets travel to Charleston, S.C. to take on the Charleston Southern Buccaneers.  Game time is set for 1:30 p.m.  Presbyterian College returns home to host Liberty at 2:00pm.

Senior Kyle Essington tied a school and Big South record with five touchdown passes as the Stony Brook football team (5-1, 1-0) won its seven straight Big South game with a 49-7 victory over Charleston Southern (1-4, 0-1) at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium Saturday.

Essington was 13 of 19 for 263 yards, completing all of his attempts to senior Kevin Norrell and Jordan Gush.  Norrell tied a career-best wih eight catches and set career-highs with 214 yards and two touchdowns.  Gush totaled five catches for 49 yards and a career-best three touchdowns.

Senior Miguel Maysonet became the Stony Brook and Big South's all-time leading rusher, accounting for 88 yards.  Maysonet, who entered the game with 3,561 yards, broke Conte Cuttino's school mark of 3,607 yards and Rashad Jennings' Conference total of 3,633 yards.

The Stony Brook defense, which has allowed 20 points in the last 10 quarters, accounted for eight tackles for loss, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Malcolm Dixon led the CSU (1-4, 0-1 Big South) offensive efforts on the day with 104 passing yards and 29 rushing yards on the day, connecting with Will Hunt for a 28-yard touchdown pass.

After a CSU three-and-out to open up the game, Stony Brook got on the board first, marching 57 yards on six plays before Essington found Norrell from 29 yards out for the first touchdown of the game with 10:45 to play in the first quarter.

The defenses held as the teams traded punts the remainder of the first quarter as Stony Brook collected the ball at their own 41 yard line following a Derek Hatcher punt with 2:32 on the clock.  The Seawolves advanced the ball to the CSU 30 yard line as the quarter expired on a Marcus Coker carry.  Maysonet punched it across the goal line from one yard out two plays later for the 14-0 lead.

Charleston Southern battled back on their next possession as the Buccaneers ground game found traction against the Seawolves defense.  Five different ball-carriers helped CSU move the ball from their own 24 yard line down to the Stony Brook 28 with Dixon converting a third-and-11 with an 11 yard carry to extend the drive.  Dixon dropped back on first-and-10 at the Seawolves 28 yard line and converted his only pass attempt on the possession, finding Hunt, who bulled his way into the end zone with 9:42 on the clock to put the score at 14-7.

Sony Brook extended the lead on each of their next possessions.

Essington capped off an eight play, 74 yard drive with a one yard touchdown pass to Gush with 4:55 on the clock.  Following a CSU punt, the Stony Brook quarterback moved the offense again through the air, connecting on a 51 yard strike to Norrell on the first play from scrimmage.  He found Norrell again through the air three plays later, connecting on an eight yard scoring toss from eight yards out with 29 seconds remaining in the opening half to give the Seawolves the 28-7 halftime lead.

Essington added a pair of touchdown passes to Gush and Coker plowed in from one yard out to wrap up the scoring in the contest with 1:43 to play in the third quarter to put Stony Brook ahead 49-7.

For the Buccaneers, Dixon was 6-of-18 through the air for 108 yards, while Trey Dorsey led the way with 54 yards on the ground.  Larry Jones III led the CSU aerial attack with two catches for 61 yards, hauling in a 49 yard pass from Dixon in the third quarter.

Stony Brook plays at Coastal Carolina next Saturday at 3:30pm in the Big South "Game of the Week" on ESPN3.  Charleston Southern returns home for their Big South home opener next Saturday as the Bucs welcome VMI to Buccaneer Field.  Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.