Offense flourishes as Liberty downs Jacksonville

libertyLiberty scored the first 41 points of the game and amassed 569 total offensive yards on its way to a 55-7 win over Jacksonville, Saturday night, at Williams Stadium.

With the claimed victory in its first home game of the season, Liberty evens its record at 1-1 on the year. Jacksonville falls to 0-1 in its first contest of the 2016 season.

Following the victory, Liberty has won 13 of its 14 home opening games, including its last four openers at Williams Stadium.

Liberty finished the game averaging 7.1 yards per play, recording 569 total offensive yards on 80 plays. The Flames’ offensive output was its highest since recording 625 total offensive yards against Brevard on Sept. 13, 2014.

For the first time since 2012, Liberty had a pair of running backs rush for a 100 yards in the same contest. Todd Macon led the Flames with 16 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. Frankie Hickson scored his first two collegiate touchdowns and carried the ball 14 times for 116 yards.

Jacksonville picked up 173 of its 299 total offensive yards on the ground. The Dolphins were led by Ulysses Bryant who rushed 13 times for 75 yards.

Liberty quarterback Stephon Masha completed 13-of-19 passing attempts for 181 yards and threw three touchdown passes in the game. Rylan Wells countered with 126 passing yards for the Dolphins (11-of-19), but the redshirt junior was picked off twice by Liberty’s defense.

Nine different players finished the game with a reception, led by B.J. Farrow’s four catches for 30 yards and a touchdown. Dante’ Shells made his two receptions count, scoring on both passing plays that resulted in 72 total receiving yards.

Wells’ top target on the night was Prince Gray who had four receptions for 59 yards, while Bryant added three catches for 40 yards.

The Flames’ defense was paced by Brandon Tillmon and Solomon McGinty, who both finished the game with eight tackles each. Both players also finished the game with two tackles for a loss. Liberty forced four turnovers for the second game in a row, this time recording two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Jacksonville had four players finish the game with double-digit tackles, paced by middle linebacker Grady Redding, who had 14 stops on the night.

The Flames wasted little time jumping on the scoreboard, taking a 7-0 lead at the 10:29 mark of the first quarter. Following a 28-yard pick up by Macon on a screen pass in the flat, Masha found Farrow in the corner of the end zone for an acrobatic two-yard touchdown reception over his defender.

Liberty doubled its lead with 2:23 left in the first quarter to 14-0. The Flames went to the air again, this time Masha found a wide open Shells in the end zone for a diving 37-yard touchdown reception.

The Flames nearly pushed it lead to a three score early in second quarter when Masha hit Damian King in stride in the end zone on a potential 20-yard score. However, the ball tipped out of the sophomore’s hand and was picked off by KJ Jenkins.

Five plays later, Liberty took the ball back when McGinty intercepted a pass by Wells and returned it 10 yards to the Liberty 41-yard line. The Flames kept the ball on the ground for the next six plays, capped by Hickson’s first career touchdown. The redshirt freshman scored from three yards out to give Liberty a 21-0 edge at the 6:47 mark of the second quarter.

The score looked like it might hold going into the intermission, but two turnovers during the last 90 seconds by the visitors allowed Liberty to push its lead to 31-0 at halftime.

A 54-yard Trey Turner punt pinned the Dolphins at their own five-yard line. On the drive’s first play, Jake Brito fumbled a ball on a pitch to the right. The Flames Erwin Dessources forced the ball loose and Alpha Jalloh picked up his second fumble recovery in the last two games.

Carrington Mosley was given the ball for the next two plays and he scored from four yards out on his second rushing attempt. The score marked his first career rushing touchdown and gave Liberty a 28-0 edge with 30 seconds left.

Another miscue on Jacksonville’s next offensive play allowed the Flames to quickly regain possession of the ball. Jamal Adjamah lost control of the ball and Nick Newman picked up the fumble. Masha tried three-straight deep passes to the end zone, but Liberty was forced to settle for a 44-yard field goal by Alex Probert as time expired to extend its lead.

The Flames scored twice during the third quarter, extending their lead to 41-0 during the next 15-minute period. Masha capped off an eight-play, 86-yard drive by hitting Shells for a 35-yard touchdown reception with 7:45 left to play in the period.

During the final minute of the quarter, the Dolphins were able to keep the Flames out of the end zone, but not off the scoreboard. Probert extended Liberty’s lead to 41-0 with 59 seconds left when he knocked down a 37-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 68-yard drive.

Jacksonville ended Liberty’s attempt at its first shutout since 2014 when Pernell Rattray broke free for a 20-yard rushing touchdown with 10:33 left in the fourth quarter.

Liberty tacked on two final scores during the remaining 10 minutes of the contest for its most points scored since a 55-48 overtime victory over Appalachian State in 2014.

Macon scored on a 49-yard run at the 7:35 mark of the fourth quarter, while Hickson capped off a 10-play, 42-yard drive with a one-run yard with 57 second left in the contest.

The Flames return to the road next weekend when they travel to Dallas, Texas, to take on the Mustangs of SMU in the first-ever matchup between the two programs. Kickoff from Gerald J. Ford Stadium is set for 7 p.m. (EST). The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

SMU is the second FBS opponent Liberty will face in the first three weeks of the season. The Flames have squared off against two FBS opponents each of the last three seasons.