Liberty Football holds first spring game of Hugh Freeze era
A 57-yard rushing touchdown by running back Frank Boyd capped a furious comeback by Liberty’s red-clad offense, giving the unit a 38-34 win during the Flames’ annual spring football game, Saturday afternoon, at Williams Stadium.
The scrimmage gave Flames Nation their first look at Liberty’s football team under new head coach Hugh Freeze, who was hired on Dec. 7, 2018.
Freeze spotted his white-jerseyed defensive unit a 24-0 lead going into the game, forcing the offense to come from behind for the win. The game utilized a 12-minute clock for each quarter with the clock running outside of a change of possession and inside the final two minutes of both the second and fourth quarters.
Liberty’s defense used the lead to its advantage and set the tone early in the contest. The first time the Flames found the end zone on the day was when redshirt junior safety Ceneca Espinoza, Jr., tipped a pass from quarterback Mason Cunningham, made an acrobatic catch and returned it 41 yards for a pick-six touchdown early in the second quarter.
The Flames’ defense, who finished the day with 10 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss, held a 31-9 edge at halftime after limiting Liberty’s offense to only three field goals before the break.
It was not until late in the third quarter when Liberty’s offense found the end zone for the first time during the scrimmage. Freshman running back Chandler Armstrong broke free for a 46-yard touchdown run on the sideline nearest the fans gathered inside of Williams Stadium with 52 seconds left in the quarter.
Liberty’s defense was only able to stop its offensive teammates once during the final 12 minutes of play, a period that saw three touchdowns and a field goal to complete the rally.
Aaron Peart connected on his lone field goal attempt of the afternoon, a 22-yarder at 6:56, directly followed by a 65-yard touchdown play from wide receiver DJ Stubbs to Kevin Shaa on the next play from scrimmage.
Freshman quarterback Johnathan Bennett, who signed with Liberty in December and joined the team in January after graduating early from high school, capped the next scoring drive when he hooked up for a 59-yard touchdown pass to Shedro Louis just over a minute later.
Liberty’s defense did keep the Flames out of the end zone on the next drive. However, the offense needed only four additional plays to set up Boyd’s game-winning touchdown sprint to end the contest.
The Flames ran a total of 118 plays during the nearly two-hour scrimmage, racking up 761 total offensive yards to average 6.4 yards per play in Freeze’s up-tempo offense.
Liberty rushed for 276 yards on 60 carries (4.6 yards per rushing attempt), while the Flames’ quarterbacks combined to throw for 485 yards on 35-of-58 passing attempts.
Boyd and Joshua Mack carried the bulk of Liberty’s workload on the ground. Boyd finished the contest with 108 rushing yards on 12 carries with nearly half his yardage coming on the game’s final play. Mack, in his first time on the field since transferring from Maine, finished the contest with 11 carries for 63 yards.
Three-year starting quarterback Stephen Calvert finished his final spring game completing 18-of-27 passing attempts for 184 yards. Bennett finished the day 9-of-15 for 186 yards.
Shaa and Louis both surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark. Shaa led the way with six receptions for 143 yards, while Louis ended the game with five receptions for 134 yards. Redshirt senior Damian King led all Liberty receivers with seven catches for 54 yards.
Redshirt senior cornerback Bejour Wilson, redshirt junior defensive lineman Ralfs Rusins and junior linebacker Remington Green tied for team-high honors with six tackles apiece. Three of Rusins’ half-dozen stops were sacks.
Sophomore defensive lineman Austin Lewis, who was named a Freshman All-American in 2018, followed closely behind with five tackles, including two of the team’s 10 sacks.
Liberty will have two more practices before it wraps up its annual spring practice workout schedule. The Flames will practice on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with Thursday’s practice being open to the media. Freeze and his players will hold their final media session of spring practice after Thursday night’s practice session, around 6:15 p.m. inside the Liberty Indoor Football Practice Facility.
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