No. 5/5 Villanova scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:12 left to post a 29-22 victory over No. 20/23 Liberty on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
walter payton award finalist John Robertson scored the go-ahead touchdown with 72 second remaining to cap a game-winning 18-play, 84-yard drive for the Wildcats.
Liberty posted similar late drives in its last two victories to advance to the second round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs for the first time in program history.
Two weeks ago, the Flames capped a 17-play, 75-yard drive with a 32-yard John Lunsford field goal with 1:20 left to lift Liberty to a 15-14 upset win over No. 2/1 Coastal Carolina.
Last week, Liberty advanced to today’s game with a 17-play, 85-yard game winning drive with 2:53 left to put the Flames up 26-21 over No. 15/15 James Madison.
With the victory, the Wildcats improve to 11-2 on the year and advance to face Sam Houston State next week in the quarterfinals of the 2014 NCAA FCS Playoffs.
The loss brings to a close Liberty’s first-ever run in the NCAA FCS Playoff and ends the Flames season with a 9-5 record.
Villanova’s defense held the Flames to a season-low 246 total offensive yards, including 112 yards during the decisive second half.
Despite a soaking rain during most of the game, the Wildcats were able to finish the contest with 447 total offensive yards on 66 plays (6.8 average yards per play).
First downs were at a premium on the night, with Liberty finished the game converting on 5-of-17 third-down plays, compared to a 5-of-12 conversion rate for the home team.
Robertson managed to account for 317 of Villanova’s 447 total offensive yards. The junior rushed 18 times for 100 yards and two scores. He also completed 8-of-19 passing attempts for 217 yards and one touchdown.
Liberty’s Josh Woodrum finished the night completing 16-of-33 passing attempts for 182 yards. The junior also managed to score his ninth rushing touchdown of the year, tying for the second most rushing touchdowns by a Liberty quarterback in single-season history.
Wildcats’ Kevin Monangai led all ground gainers on the night, finishing with 20 carries for 102 yards. Liberty’s D.J. Abnar was limited to 21 carries for 54 yards.
Liberty’s Darrin Peterson finished the game with five receptions for 103 yards. The junior posted his 12th career 100-yard game and eighth of the season. His five receptions also helped him set a new single-season school record with 85 receptions on the year.
Buck Buchanan Award candidate Jacob Hagen led Liberty’s defensive efforts with 12 tackles. The senior finished his senior season with 108 tackles and 245 for his career.
The Flames jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, scoring on a one-yard touchdown run by Woodrum with 12:11 left to play on the game clock.
The five-play, 27-yard scoring drive was set up by a 72-yard opening kickoff return by Alpha Jalloh to open the game, Liberty’s longest kickoff return since the 2012. The Flames came into the game ranked No. 117 in the country in average kickoff return yards (16.73).
After forcing a three-and-out series on Villanova’s first drive of the game, Liberty was able to add to its lead thanks to the leg of All-Big South kicker John Lunsford.
Liberty managed to get the ball to the Wildcats’ 40-yard line and the junior knocked down a 50-yard field goal to push Liberty’s lead to 10-0, with 5:07 left to play in the first quarter. The kicker finished the 2014 season by connection on 5-of-6 field goals of 50-plus yards.
The score remained the same until the 9:20 mark of the second quarter when Liberty took advantage of the game’s second turnover. Villanova managed to get the ball to midfield on its fourth drive of the game, but Wildcats running back Monangai was hit by Dominique Davis and he fumbled the ball away. Liberty’s Kenny Scott recovered the loose ball, setting up the Flames’ scoring drive.
Two plays later, Woodrum found Peterson open in the flat and the junior gained 48 yards on the play to get the Flames into the red zone. Villanova’s defense was able to hold and Lunsford widened the Liberty lead to 13-0 on a 23-yard field goal.
The Wildcats broke into the scoring column on the ensuing drive, as Villanova trimmed Liberty’s lead to six, 13-7, at 7:29 thanks to a record-setting pass play.
On the second play of the next drive, Robertson found wide receiver Kevin Gulyas open at midfield and the junior caught the longest pass play in Villanova history (87 yards) to get to the Liberty five-yard line. Two plays later, Robertson rolled right and scored from three yards out for his 10th rushing touchdown of the year.
The game’s next turnover led to the first lead change of the evening. Liberty’s Alpha Jalloh took the following kickoff at the goal line and fumble when he was hit by Rasaan Stewart. The Wildcats recovered and took a 14-13 lead on a one-yard run by Austin Medley with 5:24 left to play before the halftime break.
The game’s next turnover led to one last lead change before the intermission. Robertson was sacked by Toby Onyechi and the loose ball was recovered by Nick Newman, who returned it 58 yards to give Liberty a five-point lead with 1:31 left before halftime.
Woodrum tried to find Peterson in the corner of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt; however, two Wildcats defenders broke up the pass, leaving Liberty with a 19-14 lead at halftime.
A special teams’ miscue early in the third quarter allowed Liberty to widen its lead to eight points, 22-14, at the 5:22 mark. The teams traded three-and-out series to open the second half. Following a 35-yard punt by Liberty’s Trey Turner, the bounding ball touched Jason Ceneus and the loose ball was recovered by Dexter Robbins.
Liberty followed with a 13-play, 41-yard drive that got into the red zone, but the Wildcats came up with another red zone stop to limit the Flames to a 21-yard Lunsford field goal.
The score remained the same until early in the fourth quarter when another lengthy pass play by Robertson allowed his Wildcats to tie the game with 13:17 left to play.
Following a Flames punt on the third play of the fourth quarter, Robertson aired it out again, this time finding Gulyas open at the 30-yard line. The junior was able to beat his defender and score on a 70-yard reception.
Villanova elected to try the two-point conversion. Liberty looked like it has stopped Robertson, but the walter payton award finalist was able to escape several would-be tacklers to score and tied the game, 22-22.
Three drives later, Liberty had possession of the football at its own 36-yard line, but a sideline pass from Woodrum to Dante Shells fell incomplete on a third-and-one play to force the Flames to punt the ball away.
Following a 48-yard punt by Liberty’s Trey Turner, the Wildcats pieced together the game’s winning drive.
Taking over possession with 8:23 left to play on the clock, Villanova’s game-winning 84-yard drive was comprised of 18-straight rushing plays. The drive included two third-down conversions and a three-yard game by Monangai on a fourth-and-one play at the Liberty eight-yard line.
Three plays after the fourth-down conversion, Robertson scored from one yard out, giving the junior his 11th rushing touchdown of the year.
Liberty was able to get to midfield on the ensuing drive to give itself one last chance to tie the game. Woodrum lofted a ball into the end zone on the game’s final play, but three Wildcat defenders were able to keep the ball from Peterson and seal the victory.