0-1. It never sounds good, but that’s where the Flames find themselves for the 3rd consecutive season and 4th time in the last 5 years. Granted, all 4 of those losses came at the hands of FBS foes.
At the end of the 1st quarter, most of FlamesNation would have taken a 17-10 final in a heartbeat. At that point, Kent State was simply dominating the Flames at the point of attack. Liberty’s defense couldn’t get off the field, and Liberty’s offensive line couldn’t give Josh Woodrum or the running backs any time to get any momentum. And it showed in the 1st quarter stats where Kent State held an advantage in time of possession of nearly 12 minutes to 3, and had outgained the Flames 91 to -8 yards. One of the keys to the game for Liberty was to get off to a fast start, and they had done anything but.
The tide began to change though in the 2nd quarter. Liberty’s defense settled in, and was able to slow down Kent’s rushing attack. Then, about halfway through the quarter, Kent State redshirt-freshman quarterback Colin Reardon was scrambling on a 3rd and long. As he fought for additional yards, Liberty defensive lineman Chima Uzowihe knocked the ball out of Reardon’s hands from behind, and safety Jacob Hagen recovered the loose ball. This gave the Flames excellent field position in Kent’s territory. Quarterback Josh Woodrum led the Flames into the red zone, where things tightened up and Liberty had to settle for a field goal. But from then on, the Flames went toe-to-toe with a Kent State team fresh off their most successful season in school history last year.
Much of the Golden Flashes’ success in 2012 was thanks to running back Dri Archer. Archer was one of the most explosive players in all of college football a season ago, and Kent State has even started a Heisman campaign for him this year. Archer finished with just 10 yards on 3 carries and had to leave the game in the 1st half with a left ankle injury. This was obviously a blow to the Flashes as much of their offense is obviously dedicated to Archer. How much of an impact would he have had on the final margin, who’s to say?
The Flames went into the halftime break trailing 7-3, but were definitely feeling good about their prospects in the 2nd half after being dominated statistically in the 1st half. Woodrum and his receivers would finally get on target in the 2nd half, as Josh and Darrin Peterson connected on a 58 yard pass play to set the Flames up to take the lead. 5 plays later, Woodrum would find Gabe Henderson in the end zone for an 11 yard touchdown pass and catch giving the Flames the 10-7 lead midway through the 3rd quarter.
The Golden Flashes would respond with a 14 play, 6 minute drive to tie the score at 10 with 11 minutes left in the game. Kent State’s kicker Anthony Melchiori had no problem with his first field goal attempt of his career, splitting the uprights from 39 yards. On the ensuing possession, Woodrum connected with Dante Shells for 29 yards on an underthrown ball. If Woodrum was able to lead Shells on the play, it looked as though he could have gone for 6. The Flames’ drive would eventually stall near midfield.
When Kent got the ball back with 8 minutes to play on their own 12 yard line, they successfully marched down the field without much hesitation. The final play came when Reardon hooked up with Chris Humphrey on a play that went for 42 yards as Humphrey outran Liberty’s secondary down the sideline giving the Flashes the final margin of 17-10.
The Flames got one more shot to try to tie the score and force overtime. Liberty’s drive started on their own 14, and Clifton Richardson would rush for 12 yards on the drive to get the Flames towards midfield. On 3rd and 5 from Liberty’s own 32 yard line, Woodrum found Darrin Peterson for a 23 yard pickup to keep Liberty in business. After a 5 yard screen pass to Richardson, Woodrum was unable to connect with either Dante Shells or Darrin Peterson on 3 consecutive plays. The Flames gave up the ball on downs, and Kent State was able to run the clock out earning coach Paul Haynes a victory in his first game as a head coach.
One unheralded player shined for the Flames on defense in safety Aaron Dial. Dial finished with a team high 8 tackles including 1 tackle for loss. This exceeded the senior’s career total coming into the game as he had recorded just 7 tackles in his first 3 years primarily on special teams. Dial is replacing Brent Vinson, last year’s leading tackler, at safety.
Woodrum would finish the game 14/22 for 189 yards and 1 touchdown. Clifton Richardson led the Flames in rushing with 45 yards on 12 carries and added 13 yards on 2 receptions. Peterson caught 5 balls for 106 yards, and Henderson and Shells combined for 55 yards on 5 receptions.
5 true freshman saw playing time in the season opener – safeties Gary Sampson and Nick Newman, cornerback Wesley Scott, linebacker Dexter Robbins, and defensive lineman JaRon Greene.
Liberty will have their season opener next Saturday, September 7th inside the friendly confines of Williams Stadium against Monmouth. Monmouth dropped their season opener last night against Montana State, 42-24 with 21 of their 24 points coming in the 2nd half. Kickoff is set for 7pm.