7 for 7: Willis’ record-setting day sparks Liberty’s victory over Southern Miss

With the victory, Liberty improves to 6-0, tying the program record (also 1989 and 2008) for season-opening winning streak

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Liberty redshirt junior Malik Willis (six touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown) was responsible for a program-record seven touchdowns during Liberty’s 56-35 win over Southern Miss, Saturday at Williams Stadium.

The Flames burst out to a 35-7 halftime lead before the Golden Eagles narrowed the gap to within 35-28 with 21 third-quarter points. Liberty then pulled away with three second-half scores to seal the victory. The win had special meaning to Liberty Head Coach Hugh Freeze, a 1992 Southern Miss graduate.

With the victory, Liberty improves to 6-0, tying the program record (also 1989 and 2008) for season-opening winning streak. The Flames pushed their overall winning streak to eight games, their longest since a program-record 11-game winning streak spanning Oct. 20, 2007 through Oct. 11, 2008. The Flames have won nine straight home games, their longest home winning streak since winning 10 in a row at home spanning the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Willis passed for a career-high 345 yards on 24-for-31 passing, tying the program single-game record with six touchdown passes (Phil Basso vs. Mars Hill, Oct. 6, 1984). Willis added 97 rushing yards on 12 carries, and his rushing touchdown gave him seven total touchdowns. Demario Douglas caught six passes for a career-high 115 yards and a touchdown, one of five Flames with a receiving touchdown. Kevin Shaa led Liberty with a career-high two receiving touchdowns.

Southern Miss quarterback Tate Whatley (52 yards rushing, 188 yards passing) rushed for a Williams Stadium record-tying four touchdowns and added a passing touchdown. Jason Brownlee caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.

For the game, Liberty outgained Southern Miss, 536-416. After Liberty held each of its previous three opponents to below 100 rushing yards, the Golden Eagles totaled 215 rushing yards. Liberty countered with a season-high 345 yards and six touchdowns through the air. The Flames set season highs for both points scored (56) and allowed (35) today.

Box Score Highlights:

Final Score: 56-35 Liberty

Liberty (6-0)

Southern Miss (1-4)

Location: Williams Stadium (Lynchburg, Va.)

Attendance: 1,000

Turning Point:

With Liberty leading by just seven points after Southern Miss had scored 21 straight third-quarter points, the Flames seized momentum back on a 42-yard touchdown pass by Willis to CJ Daniels, the first of three straight Liberty scores as the hosts were ultimately able to regain their 28-point advantage. Southern Miss scored with less than a minute left to set the final score.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Quarter

  • Southern Miss received the opening kickoff and wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard, as Whatley engineered a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Whatley, who was 4-for-4 for 62 yards on the drive, scored on a 10-yard run.
  • The Flames answered immediately, needing just three plays to tie it. Willis' third completion was a 39-yard touchdown strike to Shaa, tying it at 7-7.
  • Liberty went ahead on a 12-play, 88-yard drive, capped by a Willis to Douglas touchdown pass with 1:21 remaining in the first quarter for a 14-7 lead.

Second Quarter

  • Another methodical drive (13 plays, 83 yards, 6:08) produced Liberty’s third touchdown of the day. The Flames converted on two fourth-down tries, and Willis found Shaa for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
  • Liberty stuffed a fourth-down attempt by Southern Miss at its own 35, and Willis' fourth touchdown pass of the game made it 28-7 Liberty. The Flames used another short field to push its lead to 35-7 before halftime, with Willis finding Johnny Huntley with a 10-yard scoring toss.

Third Quarter

  • Southern Miss took advantage of the first turnover of the game, forcing a Willis fumble on the second play of the half. The Golden Eagles scored on their first play from scrimmage, a 16-yard rush by Whatley.
  • The guests then kicked a successful onside kick and Whatley’s third rushing touchdown of the game drew the Golden Eagles to within 35-21. A 13-play, 94-yard drive by Southern Miss, capped by a four-yard Whatley touchdown scamper, trimmed the deficit to 35-28.
  • Liberty regained momentum when Willis found Daniels for a 42-yard touchdown pass with 1:32 remaining in the third.

Fourth Quarter

  • After Liberty took over on Southern Miss' 38-yard line, Willis rushed for a touchdown on the first play of the drive, making it 49-28. Mack capped the Flames' scoring with 1:27 remaining, scoring from one yard out.

What’s Next:

The Flames will have a bye next Saturday, and will return from the bye week on Nov. 7, taking on nationally-ranked Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium. It will be the second meeting between the two teams and first since 2016.

Date: Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020

Location: Blacksburg, Va. (Lane Stadium)

Radio: LFSN Radio (Flagship Station: The Journey 88.3 FM Lynchburg)

TV: ACC Regional Networks

Kickoff: TBA