Home First-half effort pushes West Virginia over Liberty, 41-17

First-half effort pushes West Virginia over Liberty, 41-17


liberty-flames21The West Virginia Mountaineers used a strong first half effort en route to a 41-17 victory over visiting No. 15/13 Liberty, Saturday afternoon, at Milan Puskar Stadium.

With the win, the Mountaineers remain unbeaten in 2015, moving to 2-0 on the season. The loss, the first of the year for the Flames, drops Liberty to 1-1 this season.

The contest marked the first time Liberty has faced a Big 12 opponent in school history and moved Liberty to 1-5 against FBS opponents under Head Coach Turner Gill.

The game was played in front of 52,899 fans, the third largest crowd to see a Liberty football game in program history.

West Virginia finished the game with 485 total offensive yards, while Liberty finished the contest with 372 total offensive yards. Liberty scored all 17 of its points during the second half thanks to 222 total offensive yards during the game’s final 30 minutes.

The offensive combination of running back Wendell Smallwood and quarterback Skyler Howard accounted for 419 of West Virginia’s 485 total offensive yards and all five touchdowns.

Smallwood carried the ball 15 times for 88 yards and scored twice on the ground. Howard remained efficient throughout the game, completing 21-of-26 passing attempts for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 12 times for 68 yards.

Howard’s top target on the day was Jovon Durante, who caught seven passes for 60 yards. The freshman wide receiver also had one of West Virginia’s three touchdown receptions.

Liberty’s Josh Woodrum finished the afternoon completing 21-of-32 passing attempts for 280 yards and a touchdown. With this yardage, the senior moved into third place on the Big South’s career total offensive yard list (8,379).

Desmond Rice led Liberty’s limited rushing attack. The senior finished the game with 37 of Liberty’s 92 total rushing yards on 11 carries.

Rice was Woodrum’s favorite receiver in the game, finishing the contest with five receptions for 16 yards. Dante Shells (71 yards) and Darrin Peterson (64 yards) each had four catches.

With his numbers against the Mountaineers, Peterson moved into fourth place on Liberty’s all-time career receptions (159) and receiving yards (2,411) lists.

Linebacker Nick Newman was Liberty’s top tackler, posting his third career double-digit tackle game with 10 stops. Safety Avery James followed with a career-best nine tackles.

The Mountaineers scored on their first two drives of the game, but had to settle for field goals when Liberty’s defense came up with a pair of red zone stops.

West Virginia opened the game by getting to the Liberty 11-yard line, but Howard threw consecutive incomplete passes to force the home team to settle for a 28-yard Josh Lambert field goal at the 12:21 mark of the first quarter.

After the Flames elected to go for it on fourth-and-one at midfield and did not convert, the Mountaineers kept the ball on the ground for the first eight plays of the drive, getting to the Liberty eight yard to set up Lambert’s 25-yard field goal six minutes later.

Liberty tried to get on the scoreboard on the first play of the second quarter when John Lunsford attempted a 46-yard field goal, but the senior missed wide right.

West Virginia scored its first touchdown of the game, quickly moving the ball down the field on the ensuing drive. The Mountaineers capped off the four-play, 71-yard drive when Howard completed a 52 yard pass play to Shelton Gibson to push the Mountaineers up 13-0 with 13:40 left before halftime.

Lunsford missed his second field goal try of the half on the following drive, when his 52-yard attempt sailed to the right of the goal posts at the 8:18 mark.

The home team widened its lead to 20-0 on the next drive. Liberty nearly had its first turnover gained on the drive when Jimmy O’Grady forced Smallwood to fumble the ball at the goal line. However, the junior running back was able to recover the loose ball in the end zone to extend his team’s lead.

The Flames started to move the football on the next drive, beginning with a 21 yard pass play from Woodrum to Peterson. Three players later, Desmond Rice found the space and scampered 29 yards down the field to get into the red zone.

However, the Mountaineers were able to keep the Flames from finding the end zone. Lunsford came back onto the field for the third time of the half, but missed his third attempt, this one from 31 yards, to keep the Flames scoreless heading into the locker room.

Both teams managed to score midway through the third quarter, starting with West Virginia adding to its lead at the 8:11 mark.

Howard completed three-straight passing attempts, with the third being a 10-yard scoring strike to Durante to complete a quick three-play, 53-yard drive for the home team.

Liberty responded by cracking the scoreboard for the first time in the game, piecing together a seven-play, 78-yard scoring drive.

Following sizeable passing plays to former West Virginia tight end Will Johnson (16 yards) and Shells (36), Todd Macon scored from seven yards out to put the Flames on the scoreboard, 27-7, at the 4:35 mark.

The Mountaineers pushed their lead back to 27 points, 34-7, on the second to last play of the third quarter. Howard completed a four-yard passing strike to Elijah Wellman to complete a five-play, 34-yard scoring drive.

The Flames controlled the pace of play during the game’s final 15 minutes, scoring twice during the fourth quarter.

The first came on a 49-yard field goal by Lunsford at the 12:26 mark, while Woodrum found sophomore wide receiver Zac Parker open for his first career touchdown four minutes later. The 60-yard pass play pulled Liberty within 17 points, 34-17.

West Virginia answered on the next drive, capping off the 12-play, 75-yard drive with a five yard touchdown run by Smallwood. The drive took 5:06 off the game clock and gave the Mountaineers their final score in the 41-17 game with 3:36 left to play in the contest.

The Flames return home next weekend to host No. 8/8 Montana during Hall of Fame and Family Weekend. Saturday’s kickoff from Williams Stadium is set for 7 p.m.

During the contest, Liberty will honor its seventh Athletics Hall of Fame class – Eric Green (football), Mike Hatch (wrestling), Katie [Feenstra] Mattera (women’s basketball), Sam Rutigliano (football coach) and Pat Sipe (baseball).



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