No. 24 Liberty scored on four of their first five possessions of the game and added two second-half touchdowns to secure a 38-21 Hall of Fame game victory over No. 25 Bryant, Saturday evening at Williams Stadium.
Liberty’s third win in a row moves the Flames to 3-1 on the season, while the loss is the first of the year for the visiting Bulldogs and moves them to the same record.
The win was Liberty’s first over an undefeated team (with three or more wins) since the Flames defeated Cal Poly (7-0), 49-32, on Nov. 1, 1997.
The Flames entered the game ranked No. 24 in the Sports Network poll, their first ranking since 2011. Bryant entered the game ranked No. 25 in the latest FCS Coaches poll.
Liberty has now won its second straight game against a top 25 ranked team. The victory marks the Flames’ third victory over a nationally ranked opponent in three seasons under head coach Turner Gill (3-6 record against ranked teams).
The Flames exactly doubled up the Bulldogs during the game, finishing with 498 total offensive yards and averaging 6.8 yards per play. Bryant finished the game with 249 total offensive yards and averaged 4.2 yards per play.
Quarterback Josh Woodrum posted his second 300-yard passing game in a row and fifth of his career, completing 24-of-34 passing attempts for 319 yards and one touchdown passing. The junior also rushed three times for 36 yards, including a career-long 30-yard scoring run.
After throwing for 301 yards last week in an upset win over No. 23/20 Maine, Bryant quarterback Dalton Easton was limited to 14-of-27 for 106 yards and one touchdown pass.
Running back D.J. Abnar rushed for 79 yards on 15 carries and scored twice. Todd Macon finished the game with a team-high 19 carries and a career-best 74 rushing yards.
Paul Canevari was Bryant’s leading rushing, finishing the game with 13 carries for 96 yards and one of two rushing touchdowns for the visitors. Ricardo McCray followed with nine carries for 26 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Darrin Peterson had his second 100-yard game in a row and the sixth of his career, finishing the game with eight receptions for 110 yards. Gabe Henderson followed with six catches for 85 yards, while Dante Shells had three receptions for 67 yards.
Keenan Thompson was Easton’s favorite target, finishing the game with four receptions for 36 yards. Chad Ward also had four catches for 29 yards.
Jacob Hagen was Liberty’s top defender, finishing the game with eight stops (six solo, two assisted), followed by five solo tackles by Kenny Scott.
Bryant’s top stoppers in the game were Michael Johnson, Brandon Dagnesses and Marquise Watson, who each finished the game with nine tackles.
The first scoring drive of the game was set up by the contest’s first turnover. Hagen, an All-American in 2013, intercepted his ninth career pass, moving him into fifth place on Liberty’s all-time career interception list (tied with Kevin Fogg/2009-13).
The Flames got on the scoreboard first midway through the first quarter when John Lunsford connected on a school record 57-yard field goal, capping off an 11-play, 50-yard drive.
The kick, which hit off the left upright, broke a 30-year old record (53 yards by Bill Kagey vs. Georgia Southern in 1984), put the Flames up 3-0 with 7:41 left to play in the first half.
Liberty pushed its lead to 10-0 with 2:42 left on the opening quarter clock when Woodrum took a block from his fullback and found an opening on the right side of the line. The junior scored from 10 yards out, his second rushing touchdown of the season and eighth of his career, to finish an 11-play, 64-yard drive.
The Flames kept the pressure on the visitors, scoring on their third-straight drive to take a 17-0 lead with 13:46 left before halftime. Woodrum was 3-of-4 passing, setting up an eight-yard rushing touchdown by Abnar to finish off a seven-play, 66-yard drive.
Liberty pushed its lead to 24-0 with 5:19 left to play before halftime when Abnar scored from 22 yards out. The quick four-play, 75-yard drive was spotlighted by a 43-yard completion to Shells to get into Bryant territory.
A 64-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kickoff sparked two scores for the visitors before the teams went to the locker room.
Bryant finally got on the scoreboard when Easton completed an 11-yard play action pass to McCray at the 2:22 mark of the second quarter.
The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out series on the next drive and the snap was mishandled by Trey Turner on the punt to give Bryant the ball at the Liberty six-yard line. Two plays later, McCray rushed up the middle to score on a two-yard play and pull the visitors within 10, 24-14, at the break.
Liberty was able to regroup at halftime and opened the second half by scoring on its first possession. Woodrum completed all four of his passing attempts on an eight-play, 61-yard drive. A four-yard strike to fullback Thomas Kennedy at 10:48 of the third quarter, his first career touchdown, capped the drive.
The Flames’ defense set the tone for the remainder of the 30 minutes of play on the next drive, holding the visitors to 19 yards on the next drive before punting the ball away.
The two teams traded scores late, allowing Liberty to win its fifth consecutive home game and move to 7-2 all-time in non-conference home games under Gill.
Bryant answered back on the next drive to add to the scoreboard for the final time of the evening when Canevari scored on a one-yard run with 8:05 left to play in the game.
The Flames will take to the road next weekend when they travel to Terra Haute, Ind., to face Indiana State. It was be Liberty’s first matchup against the Sycamores since a 34-10 setback in Lynchburg to Indiana State on Sept. 28, 1996.
Indiana State is 2-1 on the season and is coming off a 27-20 win over FBS program Ball State, last weekend. The Sycamores had this weekend off and will host Liberty at Memorial Stadium, next Saturday, at 3 p.m.
Both LFSN Radio and LFSN TV will be covering the game for the Flames, marking the second of three road games Liberty’s television network will cover in 2014.