“Football is a game of inches,” goes the old saying. Never has that statement been truer than Saturday night, as the Tribe held Liberty University inches short of a crucial first down to secure a 48-41 double-overtime victory over the Flames.
p. The game’s decisive play occurred quickly, as Liberty tried to pick up a first down from just outside the Tribe’s 15-yard-line, the spot the Flames needed to reach. Flames running back Rashad Jennings broke to the outside on the play, but he was gobbled up by a swarming Tribe defense that reacted swiftly to the run.
p. “The coaches had a good idea they were going to try and ram it down our throat,” junior cornerback Derek Cox said. “They only needed a yard or so. They ran that play on us a couple times earlier in the game. The guys on the field just used their own intelligence and their own game smarts and rushed to the football. They had a great pursuit, a lot of guys got there and made the play.”
p. The stop came as a shock to both sides, as the Flames and Tribe were expecting Liberty to convert on the short fourth down yardage. But when the head referee called for the “chains” to come out, the buzz inside Zable Stadium started to grow. After the official signaled that the Flames failed to pick up the first down, the crowd of 9,329 exploded in triumph.
p. “I don’t know how they did it, I didn’t know we stopped them,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I expected it to be a first down and we would have to go again. I was ready for a third overtime. But we made a play, somebody stepped up in there and we made a stop.”
p. It was a big moment for a young Tribe defensive unit that has had trouble stopping the ball both on the ground and through the air this season. While the defense has struggled, allowing an average of 379.7 yards and 35.9 points per game, the offense has blossomed into the nation’s leading attack.
p. Junior quarterback Jake Phillips continued his strong start, totaling 335 yards passing and three touchdowns. Phillips completed 20 of his 28 passing attempts, including an overtime touchdown pass to senior tight end Drew Atchison in the corner of the end zone. Phillips rushed for a touchdown in overtime as well, showing the versatility and strong decision-making that has elevated the junior from possible second-string quarterback to the FCS’ leading signal caller three weeks into the season.
p. “I can’t say enough for the play of Jake Phillips,” Laycock said. “I think Jake showed a lot of leadership and a lot of poise. He’s not going to force the ball and he’s not making bad decisions. That really helps you out offensively.”
p. Liberty led early on as the Flames tallied the only points of the first quarter on a Jennings touchdown run. The Tribe bounced right back, however, as Phillips led the offense on two scoring drives of 69 yards each to give the College a 14-13 halftime lead.
p. Cox fumbled a punt following the Flames opening drive of the second half, but the junior captain made up for it, intercepting a pass in the Tribe’s end zone.
p. “It was a great feeling because I felt like I let my team down when I dropped that punt,” Cox said. “When I made [the interception], I felt like I redeemed myself. I didn’t want to let my teammates down. After making that play, I felt like I was embraced once again by my teammates. It felt good.”
p. Liberty overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime. The Flames scored the final points of regulation on a touchdown pass and successful two-point conversion with 20 seconds remaining in the game.
p. “You feel like you have the game in pretty good shape and then for them to score right in the end and then go to overtime, it would have been very easy for us to let down,” Laycock said. “But our guys stepped up and hung in there and made plays.”
p. The College moved its record to 4-0 vs. Liberty, but the new rivalry between the two schools is growing rapidly. Liberty’s football program has turned the corner this season, as evidenced by the Flames having entered Saturday’s contest with a 2-0 record. The Tribe used Liberty’s lofted status as motivation for what proved to be an important victory in the young season.
p. “It’s a really big win,” Phillips said. “Going into this game, we had a lot of fire, a lot of intensity. Everybody has been talking about how Liberty is this great team and people weren’t really even giving us a chance. That really helped start a fire under us. Today was big for us.”