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Liberty football pulls big upset, knocking off #4 Coastal Carolina in season finale

liberty-flames21The Liberty senior class thrilled another packed Williams Stadium one last time, leading the Flames to a come-from-behind 24-21 victory over Big South rival and No. 4 Coastal Carolina.

The Thursday night contest, Liberty’s first since 2006, aired on ESPNEWS, the first-ever nationally televised football game in program history.

With the victory, the Flames wrap up their 10th-straight winning season with a 6-5 record and a 3-3 mark in Big South play. Coastal Carolina falls to 9-2 and finishes Big South play with a 4-2 mark.

The win gives the Flames a victory in six of their last nine matchups against nationally ranked teams. Liberty has now won four games against top 10 ranked teams under the direction of Head Coach Turner Gill.

Prior to the game, Liberty honored its 17-member senior class that included D.J. Abnar, Jonathan Burgess, Gerald Holt, Miles Hunter, Austin Kaigler, Dakota Kelly, John Lunsford, Ryan McCarter, Jimmy O’Grady, Darrin Peterson, Desmond Rice, Malaki Roy, Zachary Schreiber, Max Sommer, Nolan Spicer, Chima Uzowihe and Josh Woodrum.

The senior class helped Liberty win three Big South titles (2012, 2013 and 2014) and advance to the NCAA FCS Playoffs for the first time in program history in 2014.

Coastal Carolina outgained the Flames by 16 yards (428 total offensive yards to 412), despite Liberty finishing the game with a 40:52 to 19:08 time of possession edge.

Woodrum capped off his record book career, completing 19-of-30 passing attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns. The senior finished his career with a program best 10,266 passing yards and 10,690 total offensive yards.

Rice lead the Flames’ potent rushing attack, finishing the night with 18 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. Liberty rushed for 150 yards on 45 plays, its fourth-best rushing performance of the season.

Peterson finished his final game leading the team with four receptions for 70 yards. For his career, the senior finished as Liberty’s all-time career leader in receptions (215), receiving yards (3,100) and touchdown receptions (27).

The Coastal Carolina offensive continued to rely on quarterback Alex Ross and running back De’Angelo Henderson, who accounted for all 428 of the team’s total offensive yards.

Henderson finished the night rushing 11 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns, extending his FCS record to 25-straight games with a rushing touchdown.

Ross, the Big South’s all-time career leader with 11,028 total offensive yards, completed 17-of-32 pass attempts for 325 yards and a touchdown. He also ran eight times for 14 yards.

Ross’s top target on the night was Chris Jones, who led the team with six receptions for 168 yards and a touchdown.

The Flames were the first team to strike in the game, marching down the field on the game’s opening drive to take a 7-0 lead with 9:00 left in the first quarter.

Rice handled most of the workload on the 10-play, 71-yard drive. His seventh carry of the drive saw the senior take a pitch to the left and score from eight yards out for his 27th career rushing touchdown.

Coastal Carolina answered on the first drive of the second quarter, thanks to Jones strong arming Liberty’s Jeremy Peters. Ross lofted a ball to the far corner and his sophomore wide receiver went over top of Peters to score his fourth receiving touchdown of the year.

Peters quickly responded on the extra point attempt, as he tackled Ross on an attempted two-point pass play to keep the score 7-6 Liberty with 12:41 left before halftime.

Coastal Carolina took its first lead of the game on the fourth longest rushing touchdown in Chanticleers history. Henderson, taking a pitch from Ross to the right, found a hole on the far side of the field and outran several Liberty defenders on a 71-yard touchdown run.

On his second two-point conversion attempt of the night, Ross found Frankie Richardson in the back of the end zone and the 6-1 wide receiver pulled down the high pass. Coastal Carolina’s eighth two-point conversion of the year gave the visitors a 14-7 lead with 4:21 left before halftime.

For the second game in a row, Liberty opened the third quarter with a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 with 7:19 left to play in the quarter. The 11-play, 62-yard drive was kept alive by a four-yard pickup by Woodrum on a fourth-and-one play.

Four plays later, the senior quarterback rolled out and found tight end Will Johnson for a two-yard strike, tying the game on the junior’s first career touchdown reception.

The score remained the same until the first play of the fourth quarter when John Lunsford knocked down a 28-yard field goal. The senior’s 48th career field goal gave Liberty a 17-14 lead with 14:56 left to play in the final quarter.

The two teams traded three-and-out series until Coastal Carolina struck again with another big play. Ross opened Coastal Carolina’s final scoring drive of the night by completing an 83-yard pass to Jones over the middle of the field.

Henderson was given the ball for the next three plays, scoring on the third carry from one yard out to give the visitors a 21-17 lead with 3:59 left on the play clock.

Woodrum, Rice and Peterson responded, leading their fellow teammates for one last scoring drive to cap off their stellar careers.

Woodrum threw the ball on all seven plays of the 85-yard drive, completing five of his attempts. The senior’s first big completion of the drive was a 21-yard pick up to Peterson, threading the needle between Coastal defenders on a fourth-and-eight play to keep the drive alive.

After finding Rice for a seven-yard gain, Woodrum hit freshman B.J. Farrow on a slant route and the rookie gave his senior leaders a lead on a 40-yard scoring play to put Liberty up 24-21 with 1:27 left in the contest.

Ross attempted to lead his team on one last drive, but he only completed one of five pass attempts and Liberty’s defense was able to seal the victory.

With the conclusion of the regular season, teams will now wait for the announcement of the 2015 NCAA FCS Playoff field. The NCAA FCS Selection Show will air on ESPNU on Sunday at 11 a.m.