Liberty pulls away late, finishes off VMI, 33-14

The Liberty Flames outscored the VMI Keydets 14-0 in the fourth quarter, enabling them to pull away late and post a 33-14 victory in Big South football action Saturday at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Va. The game was VMI’s senior day, as an on-field ceremony was held prior to the game.

With the win, Liberty (6-5, 5-1 Big South) clinches a share of the Big South title and remains in the running for the conference’s automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs pending results from later Saturday afternoon.

On a cool, clear day in Lexington, the Keydets (2-9, 1-5 BSC) scored first on a 32-yard touchdown catch by Aaron Lewis, but the visitors scored the next 19 points and had a 19-7 lead late in the third. VMI then responded with a seven-play, 56-yard drive that ended with an Eric Kordenbrock touchdown pass to Mario Thompson, but Liberty answered with 14 unanswered points in the fourth and forced two Keydet turnovers in the period as well to seal the win.

Despite the final score, the game was relatively close statistically until the final period, as Liberty held just a 68 yard edge in total offense, 351-283, despite nearly a nine-minute cushion in time of possession at 34:17 to 25:43. Tight end Mario Thompson had a career-high seven catches, while linebacker Weston Reber had a career-best 12 tackles to pace the Keydets.

The contest opened very slowly, with the teams combining for just two first downs on their first four total drives. One of those drives came to an end after a VMI fake punt, on which defensive tackle Denton Ensminger caught the pass from David Eberhardt, but came up just a yard shy of picking up a first down.

The fifth drive was a Liberty turnover on downs, as a Nicky Fualaau rush on fourth and 1 was stopped for a loss. VMI had to punt the ball away yet again, but that set up the game’s first score. Following that punt, Liberty QB Josh Woodrum was intercepted by Mike Smith, Smith’s second straight week with a pick, and that set up the Keydets at the Flames’ 32.

On the first play following the interception, Kordenbrock heaved the ball down the left sideline. Receiver Aaron Lewis came back to the ball, outdueled a defender, made the catch and scored to put VMI on the board. Jeff Sexton’s point after gave the Keydets a 7-0 advantage as the first quarter came to an end.

Liberty got on the board late in the second, taking advantage of a quality rushing attack. SirChauncey Holloway ran the ball six times on a nine-play, 51-yard drive, and capped the spurt with a three-yard touchdown dive. VMI’s Charlie Jones blocked the point after, however, and with 2:30 left in the half, VMI held a 7-6 lead. It was the first blocked PAT by a Keydet since Sept. 5, 2009 against Robert Morris, when Damiso Alexander came up with the block.

After a three-and-out, the visitors got the ball back with 1:28 remaining and would take their first lead of the day. Woodrum had a hand in all seven plays and Liberty took advantage of a VMI penalty to go 64 yards in just 1:16. Justin Gunn had a seven-yard TD reception, and the point after gave the Flames a 13-7 halftime advantage.

The Flames’ rushing attack was the difference in the first half, as the teams were evenly matched through the air, having thrown for 114 yards apiece. Liberty held a 71-yard edge in halftime rushing yards, led by Holloway’s 34.

Much as the first half did, the second half started with multiple punts for both teams. Finally, on Liberty’s third drive of the half, the Flames notched the first points of the third quarter. Aldreakis Allen had the drive’s key play, a 31-yard scamper down the left sideline, and he then took it in from six yards out to increase the visiting squad’s lead. A two-point conversion attempt failed, and it was a 19-7 Liberty advantage.

The Keydets came right back, however, helped by a 39-yard Kordenbrock to Dexter Bridge connection and two Liberty penalties. The second of those miscues, a pass interference call in the endzone, set up a six-yard TD pass to Mario Thompson with 1:54 left in the third. Sexton’s point after made it 19-14, and that would be the score entering the final quarter.

VMI got the ball early in the fourth quarter and immediately marched into Liberty territory. With the game in the balance, the Keydets elected to go for it on fourth and 2 with under 11 minutes remaining. Kordenbrock tried to find Mario Thompson over the middle, but the pass was thrown in traffic and fell incomplete. Liberty immediately marched 64 yards in 10 plays, and Allen pushed the Liberty lead to 12 with a nine-yard touchdown run, 26-14.

Liberty then forced a Kordenbrock fumble after sacking the VMI quarterback, and four plays later, Holloway ran it in from a yard out to make it a 33-14 contest. The Keydets drove into the visitors’ territory once again, but a late interception would allow Liberty to run out the clock and seal the victory.

Kordenbrock finished 22-34 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, the third game this season in which he has posted at least a 60% completion effort. In addition to Thompson’s effort, Deon Watts had a career-best four catches and Dexter Bridge posted a career-high 66 receiving yards.

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