Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gardner-Webb Stuns #15 Liberty, 34-20, Saturday Night in Big South Opener

BOILING SPRINGS – Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell ran for a career-high 176 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, and passed for another 105 yards and a score, as Gardner-Webb topped No. 15 Liberty, 34-20 Saturday night in both teams’ Big South opener.

It was the first win over the Flames (3-3, 0-1) since October 21, 2006 for Gardner-Webb (2-3, 1-0). It was the fourth consecutive game that Gardner-Webb’s defense has allowed only one offensive touchdown in regulation.

It was the fourth time during head coach Carroll McCray’s tenure that GWU has knocked off a top-15 team.

“I see these kids every day in practice. Most people only see them on Saturdays,” said McCray. “They’ve shown signs of this, glimpses of this and I told them we needed to start to see those things play out on Saturdays. I’m very proud of the way we executed. We got [Liberty] on their heels early. I thought the offensive staff had a great game plan and the kids executed it well. We were able to limit their run game early and tackled well.”

The Runnin’ Bulldogs used a deft option attack to knock the Flames off balance early, running for a season-high 276 yards against the nation’s No. 8 run defense.

Freshman Jonathan Blackmon started things with a 14-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 10:23 left in the first quarter, and Maxwell rumbled and raced for a 45-yard score for a 14-0 edge with 5:45 left in the same quarter.

Blackmon’s score capped a 54-yard drive that took just six plays and 2:40 off the clock. Maxwell hit a pair of passes for first downs and darted 13 yards himself to the Liberty 14 to set the Bulldogs up in the red zone.

The second scoring drive was just as quick, with Maxwell running around and through the Flames to the left sideline for an crowd-lifting run. He carried twice for 53 yards on the 66-yard march.

The Flames finally got going on their third drive, using Josh Woodrum’s passing to get inside the GWU red zone. The Gardner-Webb defense stiffened, however, and All-America kicker John Lunsford’s 35-yard field goal was blocked by OJ Mau on a push up the middle.

Maxwell and Blackmon had a hand in Gardner-Webb’s third scoring drive as well, with Maxwell hitting Mike Estes for a 15-yard gain early and following with an 11-yard run into Liberty territory. Blackmon’s third run of the drive burst for 32 yards down to the Flames’ 1-yard line and Maxwell finished the drive with a scoring plunge one play later. The extra point missed, but Gardner-Webb had a comfortable 20-0 lead with 6:14 left before halftime.

Woodrum’s arm was the main weapon once again on Liberty’s next drive, as he hit Dante Shells on a 44-yard strike downfield and followed with a 31-yarder to Darrin Peterson to trim Gardner-Webb’s lead to 20-7 – using just 46 seconds to go 75 yards.

Maxwell wasn’t done, finding freshman Adonus Lee for a 13-yard gain to start Gardner-Webb’s next drive, and hitting Lee again on a beautiful sideline pass for 32 yards on third down. He then completed a pass over the middle to freshman Kyle Horton for a 30-yard touchdown that put Gardner-Webb up 27-7 with 3:04 left before halftime.

Liberty drove down for a short Lunsford field goal at the halftime buzzer for a 27-10 margin, and gained momentum quickly in the third quarter to pull closer.

After Gardner-Webb’s initial drive stalled, Zac Parker backpedalled out of a tackle at his own 29-yard line after fielding a 51-yard punt, and out-ran Gardner-Webb’s coverage for a 71-yard return score that cut the lead to 27-17 with less than three minutes into the second half.

Maxwell fumbled a wet football on Gardner-Webb’s next drive and the Flames recovered, but a drive down to the GWU 10-yard line was halted on three consecutive plays by inside linebacker Tanner Burch and Azziz Higgins – setting up a short Lunsford field goal from 27 yards that he made to trim the lead to a single score – 27-20 with 9:03 left in the third.

Liberty forced another punt, and Woodrum completed four passes for first downs to get Lunsford into field goal range again when Gardner-Webb’s defense stiffened. Lunsford’s 40-yard chance was wide right, however, and Gardner-Webb kept its touchdown lead intact.

A 43-yarder by Lunsford with 6:01 left in the game also missed wide right – and Gardner-Webb was able to run 2:44 off the clock before the Flames forced a punt near midfield with 3:24 remaining.

Komornik’s 37-yarded was muffed by Parker at the eight-yard line and safety Spencer Havird pounced on the loose ball at the five-yard line.

Maxwell wasted little time adding some insurance, bulling through several tacklers on a five-yard keeper to push the lead to 34-20 with 3:08 on the clock.

With no timeouts remaining, Liberty was forced to go back to the air – and Chad Geter sliced through quickly on first down to sack Woodrum for a seven-yard loss. Woodrum’s next pass was a one-yard loss and two incompletions gave the ball back to GWU.

Maxwell took a knee three times to salt away the win.

Gardner-Webb finished the game with a season-best 373 yards of total offense, including a season-high 268 yards on the ground. Liberty came into the game allowing just more than 100 rushing yards per game.

Maxwell finished 10-of-14 through the air for 105 yards and a touchdown – and carried 20 times for 176 yards and three scores. His rushing total was the most for a GWU player since Phillip Peoples had 176 yards on 15 carries vs. Presbyterian on October 18, 2008.

That yardage total was the most on the ground for a GWU quarterback in the Division I era (since 2000).

Blackmon was no slouch in his first significant action of the season, carrying 13 times for 73 yards and a score. Lee had four catches for a career-best 42 yards and Horton caught three balls for 35 yards and a touchdown.

Geter led the defense with 11 total tackles (eight solo), 3.0 tackles for loss – part of an effort that totaled 9.0 tackles for loss on the night. Trey Lucas had a career-high eight stops (six solo) and Jonathan Sherrill came through with a strong seven hits, two tackles for loss and a 13-yard interception return that thwarted a deep Liberty drive.

GWU held the Flames to just 60 yards on the ground on 20 carries, as Liberty abandoned the run game for much of the night after a stiff early challenge from the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ front seven.

Liberty finished with 367 total yards, with Woodrom completing 30-of-45 attempts for 307 yards, one score and one interception.

He found Peterson nine times for 107 yards and a touchdown, with Canon Smith catching a career-high five balls for 54 yards from his tight end spot. Parker also had five catches.

Des Rice carried 10 times for 52 yards and had 18 yards through the air.

Flames’ safety Avery James, son of former Gardner-Webb linebacker Chris James, led Liberty’s defense with 10 total stops (seven solo). Dessources had seven total hits, a half sack and one fumble recovery. Chima Uzowihe had five hits, a half tackle for loss and two pressures from his end position.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs will hit the road again next week, traveling to face Big South newcomer Kennesaw State (4-1) in Kennesaw, Ga. The game will kick off at 1:00 pm and will air live on ESPN3 ( Mike Hogewood and Renaldo Wynn will call the action from Fifth Third Bank Stadium.