Liberty sends loud message to FBS with win at Baylor

The beginning of Liberty’s two-year FBS transition process started off with an offensive shootout. At the end it was the Flames standing as the victor, 48-45, over Baylor, Saturday evening, at McLane Stadium.

On Feb. 16, the NCAA approved Liberty’s waiver request to begin the two-year FBS reclassification process. Tonight’s game marked Liberty’s final matchup against an FBS team as a FCS program. The Flames recorded their fifth win over an FBS program in school history with their victory.

Three of the Flames’ five wins over FBS programs have come under the leadership of sixth-year head coach Turner Gill. The Flames also defeated Appalachian State in 2014 and Georgia State in 2015.      Liberty’s first win over a FBS program came against Eastern Michigan in 1989, followed by a win over Ball State in 2010.

With the win, the Flames move their record to 1-0 on the season, while Baylor opens the season at 0-1 under first-year head coach Matt Rhule.

The game saw the two teams combined for 1,117 total offensive yards (Liberty – 585; Baylor – 532), with 725 of those yards coming through the air.

Liberty’s Stephen Calvert set a single-game passing record for the Flames, throwing for 447 yards to surpass Phil Basso’s record of 441 yards against Carson-Newman in 1984. The sophomore also set a new program record with 44 completions and 60 passing attempts.

Antonio Gandy-Golden put his name on the national scene with a career game, finishing with 13 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns. The 192 yards rank as the fifth-highest receiving yards total in program history.

Carrington Mosley carried the ball 28 times for 122 yards, picking up 53 of his yards during the fourth quarter to help wind out the clock.

Kicker Alex Probert tied a program record with four field goals, helping keep Liberty’s offensive scoring alive when the Flames could not find the end zone throughout the game.

Jeremy Peters finished the game as Liberty’s top defender, recording a career-high seven tackles, including six solo stops.

After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, the Flames quickly took a 3-0 lead on a 27-yard field goal by Alex Probert at 11:27 mark of the first quarter. Liberty utilized an up-tempo offense to produce an 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Calvert completed 6-of-7 passing attempts for 44 yards during the drive.

Before the clock turned all zeros to end the first quarter, Liberty doubled its lead to 6-0 with Probert knocking down another field goal. The 2016 Freshman All-American booted a 41-yard field at 2:35, capping off a 10-play, 35-yard scoring drive.

The Bears took their first lead of the evening on the third play of the second quarter. Asa Solomon hit Denzel Mims in stride for a 45-yard touchdown pass over the middle of the field, giving the home team a 7-6 lead at the 13:59 mark to finish a quick nine-play, 75-yard drive.

The Flames answered right back on their next possession, taking a 14-7 lead just over two minutes later. Facing a third-and-12 situation, Gandy-Golden used his reach to haul in a 40-yard touchdown pass at 11:38, pushing the 6-4 wideout over the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career. Liberty went for two and Mitchell Lewis was able to find the end zone on the ground, giving the visiting team a seven-point edge.

The back-and-forth battle continued with the Bears tying the game with 9:38 left before halftime. Solomon got Baylor into the red zone on a 49-yard pass to Pooh Stricklin to set up a 14-yard scoring run up the middle by JaMycal Hasty two plays later.

Liberty nearly responded with its second touchdown of the game on its next drive, but Blake Lynch broke up a pass intended for Marquis Fitzgerald in the end zone. The Flames had to settle for Probert’s third field goal of the game, a 33-yarder, to cap off a 13-play, 59-yard drive and give the Flames a 17-14 lead at the 4:21 mark of the second quarter.

The Bears tried to take their second lead of the night just seconds before halftime, but Liberty’s defense came up with a stop. The Flames forced Baylor to end the half time tied with Liberty 17-17 after a Connor Martin field goal with 12 seconds left before the intermission.

Chris Turner, who missed the first half due to a suspension, quickly made his presence known, picking off a pass on the third play of the third quarter. The junior’s eighth career interception and 32-yard touchdown return for a score gave the visitors a 24-17 lead with 13:53 remaining in the third quarter.

As was the case during the first half, the Bears responded, tying the game in three plays. After a 15-yard penalty, Solomon completed a 40-yard pass to Mims and a 20-yard scoring strike to Chris Platt 22 second later to knot the game at 24-24.

Liberty took its third three-point lead of the contest at the 5:48 mark of the third quarter. Probert sent this fourth field goal of the game through the uprights, setting a new career high and tying a program record, to give Liberty a 27-24 lead on a 31-yard field goal. The kick finished a nine-play, 65-yard drive.

The aerial showcase between the two quarterbacks continued on the game’s next play. Solomon threaded a 75-yard touchdown pass to Platt, pushing Baylor back into the lead at 31-27 just 11 seconds later.

Gandy-Golden moved into the school’s record books on the next drive, catching a 13-yard scoring strike in the corner of the end zone from Calvert to finish a 13-play, 73-yard scoring drive. The wide receiver’s 11th reception of the night allowed Liberty to regain the advantage 34-31, with 24 seconds left in the third.

Liberty pushed its lead to 10 points, 41-31, with 12:11 left in the game. Calvert used his legs to score his first career rushing touchdown. The sophomore’s arm got the Flames back into the red zone, setting up an eight-yard touchdown run to finish a seven-play, 44-yard drive.

Solomon followed suit on the ensuing Bears’ drive, calling his own number for rushing gains of 44 and 23 yards. The carries set up a three-yard touchdown run by John Lovett to pull the Bears back within three, 41-38, at the 10:39 mark of the fourth quarter.

Liberty pushed the lead back to a 10-point cushion, 48-38, on its next drive. Calvert completed a 26-yard scoring strike to a wide open Spencer Jones in the corner of the endzoen at the 6:12 mark to finish an 11-play, 65-yard drive.

A 29-yard kickoff return by Dru Dixon positioned Baylor to answer right back. And they did, as Lovett scored his second rushing touchdown of the game from 34 yards out with 5:00 left on the game clock.

Liberty picked up two key first downs on the ensuing drive to clear some of the remaining time off the clock, before being forced to punt with 38 seconds left. Starting at their own 22-yard line, Baylor was able to advance the ball 20 yards, before Brandon Tillmon ended the game with an interception on a deep pass down field from the Bears’ backup quarterback Zach Smith as time expired.

The Flames return to Williams Stadium next weekend for their 2017 home opener against Morehead State. Kickoff against the Eagles is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Liberty Flames Sports Network.

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