The Liberty Flames (3-0) were tested in the second quarter, but flexed their muscles as the team cruised in the second half to a 45-17 win over Old Dominion (1-2).
Once again it was Malik Willis and the Liberty defense which controlled the game. The Liberty quarterback finished the game with six touchdowns responsible for. He completed 21 of 28 passes for 242 yards and 4 touchdowns while also rushing for 77 yards and an additional two scores on 9 carries.
“To this point, this year, yes,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said when asked if it was Malik’s best game of the season. “I haven’t watched the film yet. He took two sacks he shouldn’t have, but other than that I thought he was pretty dang good.”
The Flames’ defense held the Monarchs to just 45 yards of offense and scoreless in the second half. Liberty’s defense finished with 5 sacks, highlighted by Kendy Charles recording three sacks. The last time a Liberty player recorded three sacks in a single game was Sept. 14, 2019 when Jessie Lemonier did so against Buffalo.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” Freeze said following the win. “Obviously, the glaring issue that made it a game at halftime was special teams gave them at least 10 points. We had one breakdown in coverage. They hit us on a play. Special teams did not play up to par tonight, but I thought the other facets were pretty good.”
Liberty received the opening kickoff and did what the Flames do under Hugh Freeze as a head coach, immediately march down the field and score a touchdown. In 10 plays and 68 yards, Liberty took the early lead 7-0 thanks to a 14 yard strike from Malik Willis to wide receiver CJ Daniels. The Flames went with the tempo game on offense, particularly to begin the game.
“I made up my mind this week that I was going to get after our kids a little bit to get us more prepared to go fast,” Freeze said of his offensive game plan. “I thought that might be an advantage for us early on in this game. That they might have trouble lining up at the tempo that we wanted to go. I think they did.”
The teams then exchanged punts when Liberty took over and scored another touchdown. Willis burst free for a 56-yard run right up the gut to set up the team in the red zone. The Liberty quarterback would then call his own number and take it in from 17 yards out for the score as the Flames took an early 14-0 lead.
With Liberty’s defense dominating, they forced Old Dominion into another punt following the Malik touchdown scamper. The punt would be muffed by the Flames’ Demario Douglas and the Monarchs recovered at the Liberty 30 yard line. The defense would again hold, limiting ODU to just four yards and a 43-yard made field goal to finally get on the board.
As the game moved into the second quarter, the scoring did not slow down. Liberty would score its third score of the game. CJ Daniels tied his career high with his second touchdown catch of the game, this one from 33 yards out as he blew by his defender down the left side of the field and Willis dropped the ball in for him giving Liberty a 21-3 lead.
Both teams would exchange punts with the Monarchs gaining some critical momentum when the Flames’ were called for a roughing the punter, giving them the first down. This gave Old Dominion a jolt of energy as the Monarchs strung together their best drive of the game to that point, ending in a Elijah Davis touchdown run from just one yard out.
Liberty answered with its fourth touchdown of the first half. This one came on a highlight reel of a catch from Flames’ wide receiver Kevin Shaa. He would fall into the end zone scoring from 38 yards out as the Flames seized a 28-10 lead. Utilizing the momentum picked up on the previous possession, and were able to score its second touchdown of the game with less than a minute remaining in the half to cut Liberty’s lead to 28-17 at the break.
The Flames would come out of the break looking to grab control of this game once again and put it out of reach for the visiting Monarchs. It was the defense that would lead the way in that effort. Liberty forced four straight punts and an interception on ODU’s drives in the second half. The Flames held Old Dominion to -1 yard of offense in the third quarter, forcing three consecutive three and outs. On those first three ODU drives of the second half, the Monarchs amassed a grand total of -10 yards of offense.
Meanwhile, the Liberty offense would score a touchdown on its first two possessions of the half to push the game out of reach as the Flames would coast to the win.
“Everyone felt somewhat deflated for it to be 28-17 at half,” Freeze said. “I wanted the defense to know that I believed it was not their fault that it was that way and to just come back out the second half like you did to start the game and get a stop. Offensively, let’s take care of the ball and go score some touchdowns. The third quarter was dominant by (the defense).”
The biggest test of the season awaits Liberty next week. The Flames head back on the road to take on the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome in New York. Syracuse improved to 2-1 on the season with a win over Albany on Saturday afternoon, 62-24.