When Liberty needed it most, Joshua Mack and the defense were able to make the plays needed to vault the Flames over New Mexico State Saturday night in Las Cruces, 20-13.
Liberty led throughout the low scoring affair until the Aggies tied it at 13 with 7:46 left in the game. The Flames’ offense had struggled to just 27 yards on the previous two drives combined when they had opportunities to put the game away, but with the game tied Joshua Mack picked up all 75 yards of a 4-play drive that resulted in the game winning touchdown.
The transfer from Maine who led all of the FCS in rushing in 2017, has had a slow push to get game reps as he learned how to practice, Coach Hugh Freeze said last week. He led the Flames in both rushing and receiving as he totaled 177 all-purpose yards, including a 54-yard screen pass that set himself up for the 4-yard rush and eventual game winner.
“I think it is something that we can build on and gives our kids confidence in games to come,” Hugh Freeze said on the game winning drive. “As I have said all along, almost everyone on our schedule is pretty equal. Games can go either way and for our team to be able to look back on the road, tie game with six minutes left, we have confidence we can get it done and put points on the board.”
Following Mack’s touchdown, New Mexico State moved the ball to the Liberty 5-yard line with a first and goal as they attempted to tie the game once again. Jason Huntley was stopped for a 3 yard loss by Liberty defensive tackles Ralfs Rusins and Vincent Elefante on first down, and then Jessie Lemonier stripped quarterback Josh Adkins of the football as true freshman Tayvion Land fell on the ball with just over 3 minutes left in the game.
Mack and Frankie Hickson were able to pick up two first downs to run the clock out and push Liberty to its first 4-2 start to a season since 2010.
“I’m very proud of our kids for the win tonight,” said Freeze. “I always want to focus on the positives and the truth be told, I’ve heard it had been since bah-bah-bah that we haven’t won a road FBS game. I got tired of hearing it and I
just wanted to focus on what we can control.”
The defense forced red zone turnovers on NMSU’s opening drive and final drive of the game. The first came on a deflected pass intercepted by Javon Scruggs in the end zone. He returned it 72 yards, setting up a 25-yard Alex Probert field goal to give the Flames the 1st quarter 3-0 lead.
It was a defensive struggle throughout the rest of the first half, as the teams combined for five consecutive three and outs before Liberty scored a touchdown when Buckshot Calvert found Zac Foutz for a 2-yard score that capped a 13 play, 87-yard drive in the final four minutes of the first half.
The Aggies would get on the board on the first drive of the second half, cutting Liberty’s lead to 10-3. The teams exchanged field goals on the first three possessions of the final 30 minutes, as Liberty held on to a 13-6 lead going into the 4th quarter.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Scott Symons, the Liberty defense continues to build but not break, coming up big in crucial red zone chances. The Flames are holding teams to 21.0 points per game through the team’s first six games.
Liberty has a bye week before hosting Maine for homecoming on October 19th.