Liberty defeats Gardner-Webb in OT thriller, 23-20

libertySenior Dexter Robbins ended a back-and-forth battle, blocking a field goal attempt in overtime to secure a 23-20 win for Liberty over Gardner-Webb, Saturday afternoon, at Williams Stadium.

Alex Probert, who missed a 39-yard attempt at the end of regulation, connected on a 34-yard field goal try to end Liberty’s first overtime possession.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs’ Paul Schumacher was called in on Gardner-Webb’s first overtime possession, but Robbins got a hand on the 36-yard field goal try to secure the Family Weekend victory for Liberty.

With its fourth straight win, Liberty moves to 5-3 on the season and remains unbeaten in Big South play. The Flames’ 3-0 start in conference play ties Liberty’s best conference start in five seasons under head coach Turner Gill.

The loss drops Gardner-Webb to 3-6 on the year and 1-2 in conference play.

A week after Liberty recorded 681 yards of total offense in a win over Monmouth, this week’s game saw the two teams combine for 556 yards (Liberty 291; Gardner-Webb 265).

Stephen Calvert moved to 4-0 as a starting quarterback despite his lowest offensive output in the last four games. The true freshman completed 14-of-23 attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown, while throwing two interceptions.

The Flames’ limited ground game (109 yards) was paced by Carrington Mosley, who rushed 21 times for 69 yards. Todd Macon followed with 18 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Tight end Kendall Couamin finished the contest with a career-high four receptions for 43 yards, while Dante’ Shells had three receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Gardner-Webb’s Tyrell Maxwell finished the afternoon completing 11-of-26 passing attempts for 134 yards. The junior also led the Runnin’ Bulldogs on the ground, rushing 14 times for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Mike Estes (61 yards) and Adonus Lee (48 yards) tied for team-high receiving honors for the visitors, finishing the game with four receptions each.

Alpha Jalloh and Robbins tied for team-high tackling honors for the Flames, each recording seven tackles. Chad Geter (11 tackles) and Corey Horne (10 tackles) were the top defenders for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

The two teams traded early possession before Liberty jumped out to a 7-0 lead at the 6:38 mark of the first quarter. Macon capped an eight-play, 60-yard drive with a three-yard rush to the home side of the stadium, his sixth rushing touchdown of 2016.

The junior picked up 51 yards of the 60-yard opening scoring drive of the contest. Macon had the key play of the drive, gaining 40 yards on a screen play pass where the running back was able to get into open space and drive deep down the field.

The score remained the same until the 5:17 mark of the second quarter when Gardner-Webb’s Schumacher sent a 28-yard field goal through the uprights, trimming Liberty’s lead to four, 7-3.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs doubled their offensive total of the game during the 12-play, 57-yard scoring drive. Maxwell accounted for a majority of the yards, passing for 29 yards and adding nine more yards on the ground.

Three plays later, Gardner-Webb created the game’s first turnover when linebacker Aaron Cook intercepted a Calvert pass at the Liberty 44-yard line. The Runnin’ Bulldogs managed to drive to the six-yard line, but Liberty’s defense kept them out of the end zone. Schumacher knocked down a 23-yard field goal with 1:53 remaining before halftime, cutting the lead to one, 7-6.

The game’s next turnover allowed the visitors to take their first lead of the afternoon. On the third play of the third quarter, Jaylan Foster stepped in front of a Calvert pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown 69 seconds into the quarter to give Gardner-Webb a 13-7 edge.

A misguided punt of 14 yards by Gardner-Webb’s Andrew Komornik allowed Liberty to take over possession at the visitor’s 31-yard line midway through the third quarter.

The Flames kept the ball on the ground for six of the game’s next seven plays, with Mosley carrying the ball a half dozen times for 15 yards, but the junior was only able to get Liberty to the 12-yard line. Alex Probert trimmed the visitor’s lead to three, 13-10, connecting on a 29-yard field goal at the 5:12 mark.

Probert put the next three points on the board when the freshman hit a 21-yard field goal with 11:08 left in the fourth quarter. The 13-play, 69-yard drive was kept alive by a fourth-down conversion inside the red zone, Liberty’s second fourth-down conversion of the game and eighth of the season (8-of-12 on the season).

A three-and-out stop and a 22-yard punt return by B.J. Farrow set up Liberty’s next scoring drive. Calvert lofted a ball into the corner of the end zone to Shells, resulting in a score.

The senior and a Gardner-Webb defender both came down with the ball and Shells was awarded his team-leading seventh receiving touchdown of the game. The 29-yard reception allowed the Flames to regain the lead, 20-13, with 7:53 left to play in the fourth quarter.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs responded with their longest drive of the game, tying the game at 20-20 with a 12-play, 83-yard drive.

Maxwell completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive, setting up the quarterback’s eight-yard touchdown run with3:05 left in regulation.

Liberty managed to drive to the Gardner-Webb 22-yard line, setting up Probert’s 39-yard yard attempt with two ticks left on the fourth-quarter clock. Following three straight timeout calls by Gardner-Webb, the freshman missed the kick to the left, setting up Liberty’s first overtime win since the 2014 season.

The Flames will play their final road Big South game on the year next weekend when Liberty travels to Clinton, S.C., to face Presbyterian. Kickoff from Bailey Memorial Stadium is set for 2 p.m., where Liberty will look to push its win streak against the Blue Hose to eight in a row.

Gardner-Webb will also play its final road conference game of the season next Saturday when the Runnin’ Bulldogs face co-Big South leader Charleston Southern (5-2, 2-0 BSC). Game time from CSU Stadium in Charleston Southern is set for Noon.

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