A two-yard touchdown run by Owls quarterback Chandler Burks with 4:33 left in the third quarter pushed Kennesaw State’s lead to 35-7. Liberty the scored three times within a six-minute span, cutting the deficit to 35-28 on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Calvert to Antonio Gandy-Golden with 9:06 left in the game.
However, the Owls stout rushing attack ground out a 12-play, 75-yard decisive scoring drive. Jake McKenzie scored on a 30-yard run for the game’s final points with 3:13 left to play to seal the victory.
Kennesaw State’s fifth win in a row raises the Owls season record to 5-1 and 1-0 in Big South play. Liberty, who has dropped three in a row, is 3-3 on the year and starts its 16th and final season in the Big South with a 0-1 record.
The Owls rushing offense lived up to its billing. They entered the game ranked No. 4 in the country in rushing offense (301.2 yards per game) and rushed for a season-best 498 yards, accounting for all but nine of their total offensive yards on the ground.
Liberty’s second-half rally allowed the Flames to amass 231 of the 337 total offensive yards during the final 30 minutes of play.
Calvert accounted for 234 of Liberty’s 337 total offensive yards through the air, completing 19-of-26 passing attempts with two touchdowns.
Carrington Mosley led the Flames ground game, rushing 14 times for 75 yards and two scores. The redshirt senior accounted for 46 of his 75 rushing yards on the game’s first drive.
Damian King finished as Liberty’s top receiver with five receptions for 32 yards. Gandy-Golden (89 yards) and B.J. Farrow (46 yards) both had four receptions and a touchdown.
Eight different ball carriers helped Kennesaw State nearly break a Liberty opponent record (the Flames allowed Delaware State to rush for 509 yards in 1984).
Shaquil Terry (126 yards, 1 TD) and McKenzie (111 yards, 1 TD) each eclipsed the 100-yard mark to pace the ground attack.
Burke, who carried the ball 20 times for 82 yards and scored once, completed 2-of-7 passing attempts for nine yards. One of his two completions helped stake the visitors to a 21-point lead just before halftime.
Juwan Wells matched his career high tackle total set at SMU in 2016, leading the Flames with 13 tackles on the night. Kendrick Bradley followed with nine stops, while Dia’Vante Brown added eight stops.
Kennesaw State’s defensive effort was paced by defensive end Tonarius Portness, who finished the game with nine tackles. Jace White and Anthony Gore followed with seven stops apiece.
Coming off their annual bye week, Liberty used its well-rested legs to score on the game’s opening drive. Mosley carried the ball seven times on the 11-play, 75-yard drive, scoring from one yard out at the 10:54 mark of the first on his third rushing touchdown of the year.
The Owls answered back, keeping the ball on the ground for all seven plays of a 75-yard scoring drive. Five different players carried the ball on the drive, with Holland capping the scoring effort with a leaping one-yard touchdown run at the 7:06 mark.
Darnell Holland gave the visitors the lead for good at the 12:18 mark of the second quarter. Kennesaw State’s option offense worked to perfection, creating a large hole on the left side of the field to allow the junior to score from 63 yards out, staking the Owls to a 14-7 lead.
The visitors scored twice more before the two teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime. The first was the Owls’ third rushing of the night, followed by Kennesaw State’s fourth passing touchdown of the 2017 season with one second left before the break.
After blocking a punt on Liberty’s next offensive drive, the Owls rushed for 10-straight plays to push to push their lead to 21-7. Terry took a pitch on the right side of the field and scored from 26 yards out, finishing off a 71-yard play with 4:57 left in the first half.
Kennesaw State, who ranked No. 5 in the country in turnovers gained, added its 16th turnover of the season when Taylor Henkle picked off a pass by Calvert.
The Owls kept the ball on the ground for nine of the next 10 plays, setting up a one-handed touchdown reception by Justin Sumpter from Burks in the corner of the end zone to give Kennesaw State a 28-7 lead at halftime.
The Owls picked up where they left off in the first half to begin the second half. They kept the ball on the ground 14 times on a 15-play scoring drive to take a 35-7 advantage on Burks’ quarterback keeper at the 4:33 mark of the third quarter.
Calvert jumpstarted Liberty’s attempted rally when he completed all four passing attempts on an nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive that was capped by a leaping grab from Farrow over several defenders with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
Liberty scored twice more during the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to pull within one score. Mosley capped a quick six-play, 57-yard drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown at the 11:32 mark, while Calvert hit Gandy-Golden on a 30-yard sideline pass just over two minutes later. The visitors then regained their poised rushing attack to score one more time and wind out the game clock for their first win in the series.
The Flames will begin a two-game road swing next weekend when Liberty travels to West Long Branch, N.J., to face Big South foe Monmouth. Saturday’s kickoff from Kessler Field is set for 1 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN3 and the Big South Network.