Late TD lifts #8 Charleston Southern past Liberty, 31-24

liberty-flames21No. 8 Charleston Southern was the final team to score in a back-and-forth battle on Saturday, edging Liberty, 31-24, at Buccaneer Field.

With the win, Charleston Southern moves to 9-1 on the season and caps off a perfect 6-0 Big South record.

The Buccaneers become the first Big South team to win an outright conference title since 2011. The loss drops Liberty’s record back to 5-5 and to 2-3 in Big South play.

The Flames continued to keep themselves in the game despite Charleston Southern finishing the game with a 460 to 274 total offensive yard advantage. Charleston Southern came into the day ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense (250.4 yards allowed per game).

Austin Brown was Charleston Southern’s top weapon on the day. The senior quarterback finished the day completing 20-of-34 passing attempts for 301 yards and four touchdowns.

Charleston Southern was limiting opposing quarterbacks to 144.0 passing yards per game, which continued today with Liberty’s Josh Woodrum throwing for 177 yards and completing 20-of-34 passing attempts. Despite the lower passing total, Woodrum became the first quarterback in program and Big South history to surpass 10,000 career passing yards (10,004).

Buccaneers Nathan Perera and Kenny Dinkins both finished the game with 100-plus receiving yards and two touchdowns apiece. Perera had seven receptions for 128 yards and Dinkins has six receptions for 114 yards.

Woodrum’s top target on the day was Darrin Peterson, who led the team with seven receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown reception. With his touchdown catch, Peterson became the program’s all-time leader with 27 career touchdown receptions.

The Buccaneers limited Liberty to 53 rushing yards on 22 carries. Todd Macon led the Flames limited ground attack with eight carries for 25 yards.

Charleston Southern gained 159 yards on the ground, led by Ben Robinson with four carries for 67 yards and Mike Holloway with 15 carries for 58 yards.

Liberty had two defenders finish the game with double digit tackles, as Nick Newman led the team with 13 stops followed by Avery James’ 11 stops.

Charleston Southern was the first team to strike, taking advantage of a Liberty fumble near midfield to take over possession. The Buccaneers converted on both of their third-down plays on the drive, including a 12-yard scoring play from Brown to Dinkins to give the home team a 7-0 lead with 5:24 left to play in the first quarter.

The game’s next turnover directly led to Liberty tying the game up at 7-7 just over a minute later. Following a Flames’ three-and-out series, Charleston Southern took over at its own 42-yard line. Brown tried to find a receiver over the middle of the field, but Jeremy Peters stepped in front of the pass and returned the interception 44 yards for a Liberty touchdown.

The Buccaneers regained the lead, following a deflected punt with a 38-yard field goal. Liberty’s Trey Turner, who was punting from his own end zone, had his punt attempt tipped and Charleston Southern took over at the Liberty 24-yard line.

The Flames kept the Buccaneers out of the end zone, as Tyler Tekas gave his team a 10-7 edge with 10:03 left to play before halftime.

The game’s next turnover allowed the Flames to take their first lead of the afternoon. Following another three-and-out series by Liberty, Turner’s punt pinned the Buccaneers at their own 13-yard line, where Mike Holloway fumbled the ball away on the drive’s first play.

Woodrum called his own number on the second play of the ensuring drive. He scoring from 13 yards out on the option, his 16th career rushing touchdown, giving Liberty a 14-10 edge at the 8:16 mark of the second quarter.

Both team tried to score during the remainder of the half. Charleston Southern had Tekas miss a 37-yard field goal attempt, while Liberty was unable to convert on a fourth down play under the two-minute mark to keep the Flames’ lead at four point heading into the break.

Two big pass plays on the first drive of the third quarter allowed the Buccaneers to quickly regain the lead. Brown opened the three-play, 79-yard drive by hitting Perera with a 32-yard sideline pass.

Two plays later, Dinkins got behind Liberty’s last line of defense and caught a 46-yard touchdown pass to give Charleston Southern a 17-14 lead at the 13:19 mark.

The Flames answered back, regaining the lead three minutes later on a trick play. After Woodrum got Liberty beyond midfield, the senior handed the ball off to Damian King. The wide receiver threw his second touchdown pass of the season, hitting Peterson for his record setting touchdown reception on a 44-yard play to give Liberty a 21-17 lead at 10:02.

The Buccaneers responded on the following drive, their longest of the drive of the day at 15 plays and using 6:27 on the clock. The drive was kept alive by a six-yard carry by Darius Hammond on fourth-and-inches and ended with a 15-yard scoring strike from Brown to Perera to give Charleston Southern a 24-21 lead at the 3:35 mark of the third quarter.

The score remained the same until early in the fourth quarter when John Lunsford connected on a 49-yard field goal to knot the score at 24-24 with 13:16 left in the contest.

Charleston Southern mounted the final scoring drive of the game midway through the fourth quarter on a four-play, 59-yard drive that opened with Brown hitting Perera for a 28 pass to get to the Liberty 31-yard line.

Three plays later, Brown found Perera again, rolling out to find his redshirt senior wide receiver open for the game’s decisive strike. The nine-yard pass play with 5:16 left on the clock gave Charleston Southern a 31-24 lead.

The Flames managed to get to the Charleston Southern 41-yard line on the following drive, but Woodrum’s sideline pass to Peterson on a fourth-and-eight play fell incomplete to seal the Buccaneers home victory.

The Flames will wrap up their regular season schedule next Thursday when Liberty squares off against Big South rival Coastal Carolina at Williams Stadium. The contest, which kicks off at 7 p.m., will be televised on ESPNEWS, marking the program’s first-ever nationally televised game.

Coastal Carolina will be the third top 10 ranked team the Flames have squared off against this season. Besides today’s matchup against the Buccaneers, Liberty defeated then ranked No. 8/7 Montana, 31-21, at home on Sept. 19.

Coastal Carolina is currently ranked No. 4 in both national polls. Earlier today, the Chanticleers moved to 9-1 and 4-1 in Big South play with a 45-13 home victory over Kennesaw State.