Liberty opens Big South play with 36-21 win at Kennesaw State

libertyA strong second-half push and two key fourth-down stops allowed Liberty to open Big South Conference play with a 36-21 road victory at Kennesaw State, Saturday evening at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

The Flames posted 231 of their 414 total offensive yards during the second half, allowing Liberty to even its record at 3-3 and open Big South play with a win.

The loss snapped Kennesaw State’s four-game winning streak, dropping the Owls to 4-2 overall and 0-1 in league play.

Besides the offensive effort during the final 30 minutes of the contest, Liberty stopped Kennesaw State twice during the second half on fourth-and-goal plays on the one-yard line. The defensive stops silenced the Homecoming crowd of 8,803 fans, the second largest in stadium history.

Stephen Calvert finished the night completing 22-of-30 passing attempts for 211 yards. Chandler Burks paced the Owls, completing 11-of-19 attempts for 141 yards. Each quarterback threw one touchdown pass.

Liberty, who had been held below the 100 yard rushing mark in 11 of its last 15 games, finished the night with 203 yards on the ground and two scores.

Todd Macon led the Flames with 16 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown. Carrington Mosely had eight carries for 69 yards and gave Liberty a 15-point cushion with a 52-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left to play. Frankie Hickson, who made his mark in the return game, carried the ball 11 times for 41 yards.

Burks was the Owls top rusher, carrying the ball 28 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. Chaston Bennett followed with five carries for 76 yards and a score.

Eleven different players finished the game with a reception for Liberty, led by B.J. Farrow (36 yards) and Dante Shells (32 yards). Xavier Harper was the leading receiver for the Owls, finishing the game with five receptions for 88 yards.

Dia’Vante Brown had a career night for the Flames, leading the team with nine tackles, followed by eight stops from Nick Newman. Akebren Ralls was the top tackler for Kennesaw State, finishing with a game-high 12 stops.

The final star of the night for Liberty was freshman kicker Alex Probert who finished the evening a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals attempts. Two of his kicks were from 47 yards out and the third was from 50 yards, his second 50-plus yard field goal of the year.

The game’s lone turnover led to the initial score of the evening. After a three-and-out stop for the Flames, Kennesaw State was forced to punt, but the return was misplayed by T.J. Tillery and the home team recovered the ball at the Liberty 26-yard line.

Seven plays later, Burke called his own number to cap a 3:23 scoring drive with 8:22 left to play in the first quarter, giving the Owls a 7-0 edge.

The lead was short lived for the home team as Frankie Hickson returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Liberty’s first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2011 tied the game at 7-7 with 8:04 left in the opening period.

The Owls looked like they might regain the lead on the following drive, moving the ball deep into Liberty territory. However, Justin Thompson’s 26-yard field goal attempt missed wide left to keep the game tied the rest of the first quarter.

The score remained the same until the 11:03 mark of the second quarter when a Liberty drive stalled at the home team’s 30-yard line. Alex Probert was called in and the freshman was able to use the wind to bend in a 47-yard field goal to give the visitors a 10-7 lead.

Another lengthy Probert kick extended Liberty’s lead to 13-7 with 5:28 left before halftime. The freshman’s second career 50-yard kick capped an eight-play, 37-yard scoring drive.

The Owls thrilled the Homecoming crowd just before halftime, briefly regaining the lead at 14-13 on a 63-yard touchdown run by Bennett. The senior took a pitch out on a third-and-three play and used several key blocks down the field to take a one-point lead at 2:18.

Liberty mounted its best offensive drive of the first half, marching 73 yards down the field to take a 20-14 lead into the break on a 14-yard scoring strike from Calvert to Farrow. Calvert completed five of his last six pass attempts during the 10-play drive, giving Liberty the six-point lead with nine ticks left on the first-half clock.

The Flames kept the momentum in their favor to begin the second half, widening their lead to 26-14 with 9:49 left to play in the third quarter. Calvert lofted a ball up in the air on a third-and-12 play and Zac Parker pulled it down for a 37-yard reception to keep the drive alive.

Following two quick strikes from Calvert to Couamin and Farrow, Todd Macon drove to the outside and used an extra push to score from three yards out. Liberty elected to go for two and the conversion attempt failed, leaving Liberty with a 12-point lead.

Kennesaw State nearly cut into the lead in the early seconds of the fourth quarter, getting the ball to the Flames’ one-yard line. However, the Owls, who entered the game 9-of-11 on the year on fourth-down conversions, were stopped and Liberty took over on downs.

The Flames could only pick up two yards on the following drive and were forced to punt, which gave the Owls the ball back at the Liberty 43-yard line. Burks hit Bennett in stride and the senior scored on the first play to trim Liberty’s lead to 26-21 with12:30 left in the game.

Liberty managed to get the ball to the Kennesaw State 30-yard line, but had to call Probert back on to the field where the freshman knocked down a 47-yard field goal with 7:29 left in the game to give Liberty a 29-21 edge.

Following a three-and-out series on the Owls next drive, Liberty took over possession just 78 second later. After Calvert moved Liberty passed midfield with his arm, Mosley broke free for a 52-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left to give the Flames a two-score lead.

The home team once again marched down the field and nearly crossed the goal line on the next drive; however, the Flames stopped Kennesaw State on the one-yard line with 56 ticks left on the clock to seal Liberty’s first road win since defeating Georgia State, last October.

The Flames return to Williams Stadium for their next two games beginning next weekend when Liberty hosts Monmouth as part of Homecoming Weekend. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.