Liberty concludes their regular season home and Big South schedule on Saturday as they host #14 Charleston Southern with huge implications for both teams.
Flames playing for conference championship at home.
Liberty has won 7 Big South Football Championships in school history, with all of them coming in the past 9 years. Of course, 5 of these 7 championships were not outright as there was a 2 or 3 way tie for the league title. In the previous 7 conference championships, Liberty has never had the opportunity that it faces this week, to win the outright conference championship at home.
In 2007, the Flames clinched it’s first ever Big South title at Gardner-Webb in the season finale.
In 2008, Liberty won the Big South Championship with a win at VMI.
In 2009, Liberty clinched a share of the league title with a win at Gardner-Webb before losing the next week at Stony Brook to fall into a tie.
In 2010, the Flames lost at Coastal before beating Stony Brook at home in the “black jersey game” to force a 3-way tie for the league title.
In 2011, Liberty played in a de facto Big South Championship game, losing at Stony Brook.
In 2012, Coach Gill led his team to a win at VMI to force a 3-way tie.
In 2013, the Flames clinched a share with a win at Charleston Southern.
In 2014, Liberty clinched a share and won the Big South auto bid with a win at Coastal Carolina.
2010 is the only prior time the Flames clinched a conference title at home, but that was in the season finale after a heartbreaking loss at Coastal Carolina. Plus, the automatic bid was going to either Coastal Carolina or Stony Brook that year. Liberty’s win was like kissing your sister as it allowed the Chanticleers to win the league’s auto bid.
No other game at Williams Stadium has ever had the implications that the game Saturday against Charleston Southern has.
“We have not had an opportunity to win it in front of our home crowd in the 4 or 5 years I’ve been here,” Gill explained, “which makes it unique and special from that point of view. Playing for an outright championship. (You) play 9 games, and it gets you to a point where you need to be. And we’re right where we need to be, playing for an opportunity to be conference champion.”
Games like these come down to execution.
These two teams are so close on paper. The current line has Charleston Southern favored by 2.5 points. Each coach I spoke with this week mentioned that games like these come down to execution.
“They are a very disciplined (defense),” offensive coordinator Joe Dailey said. “They understand the design behind each play call. They are up there with some of the best (defenses) in the country. You can tell they are focused on being execution oriented.”
Defensive coordinator Robert Wimberly agreed by saying, “it comes down to execution. (I want my guys to) play with speed and not worry so much about the scheme.”
“There’s going to be inspiration, there’s going to be energy,” Gill said. “This type of game always presents that. So, I don’t have to worry about trying to get our guys ready to play.”
We’ve been highlighting several of the Flames’ 16 member senior class which will be honored on senior day prior to kickoff. Of course, with 16 seniors, we haven’t been able to put a spotlight on every one of them. We have featured Aharown Campbell, Erwin Dessources, JaRon Greene, Alpha Jalloh, Nick Newman, and (surprise) Dexter Robbins Friday and Dante Shells Saturday. The other members of the senior class include Isaac Brown, Jermaine Copeland, Kendall Couamin, Devin Crisp, Tanner Hartman, Will Johnson, Wesley Scott, Canon Smith, and Aaron Waller. Tanner Hartman was a late addition to that list as it was announced on Tuesday that he is retiring from the game of football due to recurring issues with concussions. Wesley Scott was injured during spring practice and has missed the entire 2016 season. He has the option to use his redshirt year for this season and return in 2017. No final decision has been made regarding Scott’s 2017 status at this point.
Dante Shells on his emotions heading into senior day – “It’s kind of surreal right now. I’ve been here for a while, so there was always I have next year. There is no I have next year now. It’s finally hit me. I’m happy. I’m satisfied with the way things went, but at the same time it’s still a shock because every end of the year I always had a chance to look forward to next year. (We) just have to finish it off right.”
Turner Gill on Charleston Southern’s offensive approach – “‘They’re going to run the football. Run the football, play action pass. Run the football, play action pass. That’s their formula, and they do it quite well.”
Robert Wimberly on facing multiple option teams this year – “The season helped us out this year as far as having an opportunity to play a couple of option-oriented offenses and then facing dual threat quarterbacks. Once again, the best way to learn is through experience, We’ve been blessed this season to get some experience to where our young men have been able to see first hand what we’re talking about. You can show it on film, but until they get in live action and mature it’s always just talk.
Joe Dailey on Buckshot’s struggles the past two weeks – “Two weeks ago we played a really, really good defense that was probably at the time the best 3-5 football team in the country. He had put himself in some bad situations during that game. This previous week (against PC), he was in unfavorable down and distances that weren’t really his fault per say. He only had 15 pass attempts, and a number of them were 3rd and long. I really wasn’t all that upset with his performance last week because, really, the game plan didn’t call for him to have to make a lot of plays or a lot of throws. It just so happened he was 5/15. It had to do with some self-inflicted wounds either at the quarterback position or us offensively.”
Alpha Jalloh on playing at home in a big game – “Our fans are phenomenal, especially I love the Jerry Jokers.”
Dante Shells on this week’s game – “We’re here, but we still have to take care of business. We know that it’s not going to be an easy game at all. We’re not expecting them to come in here and lay down. We’ve always preached being 1-0 each weekend. In the conference, we’ve been able to do that. So, I feel like if we just keep preaching the same thing, with this last conference game, saying all we have to do is beat Charleston Southern, 1-0 again, so we control our own destiny. I feel like that’s kind of a relief. Going back 2 years ago, we were able to control our own destiny going to Coastal. We’re kind of in that same situation. So, if we stay here and take care of business, we know that then we will kind of be relieved.”
Liberty 27, Charleston Southern 24