Chima Uzowihe blocked a potential game-winning field goal as time expired, allowing Liberty to punch its ticket to the NCAA FCS Playoffs for the first time with a 15-14 victory over No. 2/1 Coastal Carolina, Saturday afternoon, at Brooks Stadium.
With the win, Liberty and Coastal Carolina share the Big South Conference title with identical 4-1 league victories. The Flames claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs by virtue of their upset victory today.
This win marks Liberty’s first-ever win over a No. 1-ranked team in athletics department history.
With the win, Liberty raises its record to 8-4 on the season. The loss snaps Coastal Carolina’s 11-game win streak and drops the Chanticleers to 11-1.
Liberty finished the game with 455 yards of total offense, while holding the No. 1 offense in the Big South to a season-low 312 total offensive yards.
Liberty’s Stephon Masha, who started his second career game, finished the contest 20-of-33 for 285 yards and one touchdown pass.
Alex Ross, the Big South Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, was limited to 171 passing yards. The junior finished the game completing 13-of-22 passing attempts.
Liberty’s D.J. Abnar recorded his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of the season, carrying the ball 35 times for 122 yards.
Ross was Coastal Carolina’s leading rusher, finishing the game with 15 carries for 60 yards. De’Angelo Henderson, who was leading the Big South in rushing coming into the day (1,205 yards, 17 touchdowns), was limited to nine carries for 52 yards and a score.
Liberty had two 100-yard receivers in the game, starting with Gabe Henderson, who led the team with 10 receptions for 114 yards. Darrin Peterson followed with four receptions for 113 yards, his 11th career 100-yard game, including a 72-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
Coastal Carolina’s top receiver was Bruce Mapp, who finished the game with four receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Liberty’s stout defense was paced by linebacker Nick Newman, who finished the contest with nine tackles. Gary Sampson followed with seven stops, while Jacob Hagen, the team’s defensive leader this year, finished with five stops.
Two-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year Quinn Backus led Coastal Carolina’s defensive effort. The All-American linebacker tied a program record with 20 tackles. Brett Johnson followed with 17 stops for the Chanticleers.
The Flames were the first team to dent the scoreboard, jumping out to a 3-0 lead following a 32-yard field goal by John Lunsford with 8:48 in the first quarter.
Liberty’s defense forced a three-and-out series on the opening drive of the game. A 16-yard run by Abnar then got the Flames into the red zone, but the nine-play, 36-yard drive stalled and Liberty had to settle for the field goal.
Coastal Carolina looked like it might answer on the next drive, but a 37-yard field goal try by Alex Catron was missed and allowed the Flames to hold the three-point edge going into the second quarter.
A 22-yard reception by tight end Craig Weick jumpstarted the four-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Following a pass interference penalty on Liberty, Ross found Mapp open for a 33-yard touchdown pass to give Coastal Carolina a 7-3 lead at the 10:07 mark of the second quarter.
The game’s first turnover led to the contest’s next scoring drive. Following a 22-yard completion by Masha to Gabe Henderson to get Liberty into Coastal territory, Masha’s next pass was intercepted by safety Imir Sanders to give the ball back to the Chanticleers.
Coastal Carolina used a mixture of its rushing and passing attack to move the ball down the field on the eight-play, 61-yard scoring drive.
The eight-play effort was aided by another pass interference call on the Flames to give the home squad a new set of downs at the 27-yard line.
Four plays later, Ross rolled out and found his sophomore running back open in the flat and he was able to scamper 19 yards down the field to push Coastal Carolina’s lead to 14-3 with 4:45 left to play in the half.
Liberty responded on the final drive of the second quarter, trimming Coastal Carolina’s lead to eight, 14-6, on a 42-yard field goal by Lunsford with three seconds left on the clock.
Liberty’s 13-play, 46-yard drive got to the Coastal 17-yard line, but Chanticleer defensive end Roderick Holder sacked Masha to keep Liberty from further advancing the ball on the drive.
A third quarter defensive battle was broken up when Masha found Darrin Peterson open over the middle on a third-and-six play. The junior wide receiver caught the ball at midfield and broke multiple tackles to score on a 72-yard touchdown reception at the 2:01mark.
Liberty elected to try to tie the game with a two-point conversion; however, Masha was unable to get the handoff to Abnar and the score remained 14-12 in favor of the home team.
The Flames had an opportunity to take their second lead of the game, piecing together a 16-play, 72-yard drive that got the Coastal 26-yard line.
However, Lunsford’s 43-yard field goal try sailed wide right, allowing the Chanticleers to cling to the two-point advantage with less than nine minutes to play in the game.
Following a seven-play, 36-yard drive for Coastal Carolina, Liberty regained possession at its own 10-yard line with 6:16 left to play in the game.
The Flames methodically marked down the field to set up Lunsford for a fourth time on the day and the junior gave the Flames the lead, 15-14, on a 32-yard field goal with 1:20 left on the game clock.
With no timeouts left, Coastal Carolina pieced together a nine-play, 69-yard drive to give themselves a chance to keep their undefeated season alive.
The Chanticleers opened the drive with a 39-yard completion from Ross to Mapp, quickly getting Coastal Carolina into Liberty territory.
Six plays later, a four-yard run by Andre Johnson gave Coastal Carolina the ball at the Liberty six-yard line with three seconds left on the game clock.
Following two timeouts to ice Catron, Liberty’s special teams prevented the home team from celebrating when Uzowihe was able to leap up and block Coastal Carolina’s 24-yard field goal as time expired to seal Liberty’s first-ever trip to the NCAA FCS Playoffs.