On the season, the Flames are now 9-1 overall and are undefeated at home (6-0) for the first time since the 2010 season.
Even though the offense returned to its high-scoring tendencies, the Flames defense got the team’s first shutout of the season and first in four years. Liberty held UMass to just 227 total yards, only 55 on the ground, 5-13 on third down tries, 0-2 on fourth down and forced two turnovers in what was overall a fairly dominant defensive performance.
“We didn’t play great defensively, particularly on third down, but I thought when we needed to really rise up and play good to get stops, we did,” said head coach Hugh Freeze, who is always a perfectionist. “We got to play a lot of kids on that side of the ball too which is good. To shut them out, you can’t complain a whole lot.”
True-freshman defensive back Quinton Reese secured one of the turnovers when he intercepted UMass quarterback Garrett Dzuro, the first pick of his young career. Reese also had six tackles in the game.
“It felt good to finally get that shut out that we needed,” Reese said postgame.
On offense, Liberty had 629 total yards and picked up 31 first downs. In the first half, Liberty scored touchdowns on four-straight possessions and was up 31-0 by halftime.
Unlike recent victories, however, the Flames did most of the damage through the running game, garnering 378 rushing yards for almost nine yards per carry.
Running backs Peytton Prickett and Joshua Mack both rushed for over 100 yards in the game – Prickett had 125 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown, while Mack had 109 on 11 carries and a touchdown of his own on a 59-yard scamper.
Troy Henderson was just 21 yards shy of also eclipsing the 100-yard mark, which would have been the first time in program history three running backs all ran for 100 yards in a game.
“Coach Freeze wanted to set the tone. From earlier this week all [the] emphasis was about getting our run game going and just getting back to our roots,” Prickett said. “I think we did just that all four quarters so I’m proud of the O-line, I’m proud of J-Mack, I’m proud of Troy, I’m proud of Malik, I’m proud of everybody.”
Freeze also praised the run game because the Minutemen defense stacked the box with extra players to try and stop the run, but it did not work even with some UMass players being unblocked.
After struggling mightily against NC State last week, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis returned to his usual form, passing for three touchdowns and 223 yards on 16 attempts. Willis connected for touchdowns with wide receivers Kevin Shaa and Demario Douglas as well as tight end Michael Bollinger.
The dual-threat QB also helped add to the run totals with 63 yards rushing on seven carries, including a 54-yard touchdown run.
“I mean it’s good [to be back in a rhythm offensively],” Willis said. “I needed that game last week. You always want to win, but we learned a lot from that game and I just had to take it back to the basics and get back to my fundamentals.”
Willis also praised the offensive line and said the strong rushing attacked allowed for more one-on-one matchups on the outside for receivers.
For UMass, an independent school just like Liberty, Friday’s shutout loss marks the end of forgetful, winless season. The Minutemen had originally decided to not play football this year during the coronavirus pandemic, but switched its decision in September, scheduling four games.
Liberty will now prepare to take on its possibly toughest opponent yet in undefeated No.16 Coastal Carolina on the road next Saturday.
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