Flames outlast Monarchs for 38-24 road win

Liberty Flames football (WSLS 10)

A pair of late touchdowns from running back Dae Dae Hunter allowed Liberty to open up a tied game and outlast Old Dominion for a 38-24 win, Saturday evening, at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

The Flames jumped out to a quick 14-0 during the first eight minutes of the game thanks to a pair of highlight-reel touchdown receptions.

However, the Monarchs clawed their way back into the game. The home team tied the contest for the second time with 3:01 left to play in the third quarter to set the stage for Liberty’s late ground attack.

The Flames finished the game with a season-best 478 total offensive yards on 67 plays, averaging a season-high 7.1 yards per play. Old Dominion also amassed an opponent season-high total, finishing the night with 415 yards on 80 plays (5.2 yards per play).

Liberty surpassed the 200-yard mark on the ground for the second time this year, ending the night with 210 yards on 39 carries with two rushing touchdowns.

For the first time since 2020, Liberty had a pair of players surpass the 100-yard mark on the ground. Hunter rushed 15 times for 121 yards and the game-sealing touchdowns. Shedro Louis posted his third career 100-yard game with 16 carries for 109 yards.

Liberty used three quarterbacks in the game. Starter Kaidon Salter finished the night 10-of-19 for 170 yards, with two touchdowns and two touchdowns.

Johnathan Bennett’s second-half play allowed Liberty to secure the win, as he completed 7-of-9 passing attempts for 98 yards and a touchdown.

Three players finished the game with touchdown receptions (CJ Yarbrough, Hunter and Jaivian Lofton) with Yarbrough and Lofton’s receptions coming in dramatic fashion. Yarbrough led all receivers on the night with four receptions for a career-high 94 yards.

Javon Scruggs paced Liberty’s defensive efforts. His eight stops were a season-high and add to his active career tackles leader tally (221).

Box Score Highlights:

Final Score: 38-24

Liberty (4-1)

Old Dominion (2-3, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Location: S.B. Ballard Stadium (Norfolk, Va.)

Attendance: 18,368

Turning Point:

After taking a 31-24 lead on the final play of the third quarter, Liberty found itself pinned on its own one-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Flames ground out an eight-play, 99-yard scoring drive that ended on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Bennett to Hunter to push Liberty’s lead back to two scores, 38-24.

On the drive, Bennett completed all four of his pass attempts, including the game-sealing play to Hunter with 6:55 left to play in the contest.

A Liberty Win...

· Marks the first time in program history the Flames have started three consecutive seasons with a 4-1 record or better through five games.

· Improves the Flames’ all-time record against Old Dominion to 3-1 with their third consecutive victory over the Monarchs.

· Is the first victory by a road team in the head-to-head series with Old Dominion.

· Gives the Flames a 2-0 record against Sun Belt opponents this season, improving their all-time mark against conference foes to 9-3.

· Moves Hugh Freeze’s record as Liberty’s head coach to 30-12, tying him with Danny Rocco for the Flames’ fastest coaches ever to record 30 wins (42 games).

· Boosts the Flames’ all-time record against in-state opponents to 45-38, including 4-1 under Hugh Freeze.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Quarter

· For the second game in a row, Liberty scored on its opening drive when wide receiver Jaivian Lofton made a one-handed 34-yard touchdown catch from Salter at 13:14 mark. The quick scoring drive was set up by a tipped ball that was intercepted by Robert Rahimi, giving the junior an interception in three-straight games.

· Another tipped ball led to the game’s next score, pushing Liberty’s lead to 14-0 at 7:22. Salter was flushed from the pocket and tried to get rid of the ball, and his throw was almost picked off. The Monarch defender bobbled the attempted interception and CJ Yarbrough was there to collect the miscue, resulting in a 41-yard touchdown play.

· Old Dominion trimmed Liberty’s lead in half, 14-7, on a more traditional scoring drive. Monarch’s quarterback Hayden Wolff completed a pair of passes on the eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive, setting up his own eight-yard scoring run at 5:07.

· The game’s fourth turnover helped the home-standing Monarchs tie the game at 14-14 just before the end of the quarter. After a Salter pass over the middle was picked off by Robert Kennedy, Old Dominion converted twice on third-down plays on the 40-yard scoring drive, including a four-yard pass play to Ali Jennings with 23 seconds left.

Second Quarter

· The Flames regained the lead early in the second quarter on a 29-yard touchdown run by Dae Dae Hunter at 12:23, giving Liberty a 21-14 lead. The drive was Liberty’s longest of the first half, lasing seven plays for 83 yards, but only taking 2:56 off the clock.

· The back-and-forth scoring battle continued on Old Dominion’s next drive, but Liberty was able to keep the Monarchs out of the end zone. ODU converted on two third-down play, but couldn’t on a third attempt and was forced to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Ethan Sanchez to cut Liberty’s lead to 21-17 with 7:22 left to play in the half.

Third Quarter

· Liberty pushed its lead back to seven points midway through the third quarter when Nick Brown knocked down a career-long 49-yard field goal at the 6:34 mark. The seven-play drive was kept alive by a 40-yard run from Shedro Louis on a third-and-17 play, giving the junior his longest run of the year and the Flames a 24-17 edge.

· The Monarchs quickly answered back on the following drive, knotting the score at 24-all at 3:01. Wolff hit Blake Watson on a screen pass, and the running back got to the outside to score on a 16-yard play, capping an eight-play, 75-yard drive.

· The Flames regained the lead on the last offensive play of the quarter when Hunter broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run to push Liberty’s lead to 31-24.

Fourth Quarter

· Liberty wrapped up its second road win of the season midway through the fourth quarter. After starting on its own one-yard line following a 38-yard Monarch’s punt, Liberty us four rushing plays and four passing plays to go the length of the field to seal the win.

What’s Next:

The Flames conclude a brief two-game road swing, next weekend, when Liberty returns to McGuirk Alumni Stadium to square off against fellow FBS independent UMass. The two teams have met on the gridiron each of the last four years, with Liberty winning the last three matchups, including a 63-21 road win in Amherst, Mass., on Nov. 2, 2019.