KSU Still in Playoff Hunt With No. 14/14 Charleston Southern Beating No. 25/24 Liberty

   LYNCHBURG, Va. – No. 14/14 Charleston Southern scored on five consecutive drives, building a four-score first half lead en route to a 48-26 victory over No. 25/24 Liberty, Saturday afternoon, at Williams Stadium.

The loss snaps Liberty’s season-long five game win streak and drops the Flames to 6-4. The contest wrapped up Big South play for the Flames at 4-1, which secures a share of the conference title, Liberty’s eighth in program history.

With a victory next weekend over Kennesaw State, Charleston Southern (6-3, 3-1 Big South) would share the title with the Flames and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs.

Should the Buccaneers drop their regular-season finale to the Owls next weekend at Buccaneer Field, Liberty would share the conference title with Kennesaw State (8-2, 3-1 Big South). An Owls’ win would give Liberty the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs based upon Liberty’s 36-21 win at Kennesaw State on Oct. 15.

The Military Appreciation Day game was played in front of 21,712 fans, the second largest crowd in stadium history.

Prior to the game, Liberty honored its 15-member senior class, a group that has won 29 games and conference titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

The Buccaneers outgained the Flames, 514 to 331, doing most of their damage on the ground. Charleston Southern rushed for 344 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.

Charleston Southern’s Shane Bucenell finished the afternoon completing 10-of-16 passing attempts for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Liberty’s Stephen Calvert finished the game 15-of-36 for 261 yards, with 148 of his yardage coming during the fourth quarter.

Nine different players helped the Buccaneers rush for 344 yard, the most the Flames have allowed during the 2016 season. Mike Holloway rushed for 107 yards on nine carries, while Ben Robinson finished the game with six carries for 71 yards. Bucenell followed with 11 carries for 65 yards, with both Bucenell and Robinson scoring a touchdown.

Liberty’s ground game, which was limited to 70 yards, was paced by Carrington Mosley, who rushed for 59 yards.

Four different players finished with two receptions for the Buccaneers with Kameron Brown leading the way with 60 receiving yards.

Liberty’s top receivers were Dante’ Shells and Kendall Coaumin, two of Liberty’s 15 seniors. Shells had 66 receiving yards, making him the seventh player in program history with 2,000 career receiving yards (2,028). Coaumin had a career day with 93 yards, including his first career touchdown on a 65-yard score in the third quarter.

Liberty’s Dexter Robbins led all tacklers in the game with 10 stops, while Chris Turner had two of Liberty’s three interceptions. The third interception was recorded by Tyrin Holloway. Charleston Southern’s defense was paced by Anthony Ellis, who had a half dozen stops, including 3.5 tackles for a loss.

The Flames, who entered the game ranked No. 9 in the country in the turnovers gained (22), quickly added to their season’s total. On the game’s second offensive play, Turner stepped in front of a Bucenell pass to record his sixth career interception.

Liberty was unable to mount an offensive attack on the drive that started on the Charleston Southern 14-yard line, forcing the Flames to settle for a 32-yard Alex Probert field goal at the 12:55 mark of the first quarter.

The Buccaneers took their first lead of the game, 7-3, midway through the first quarter when Bucenell hit tight end Travay Hatten for an 11-yard touchdown play at 6:47. Bucenell picked up 49 of the drive’s 67 yards through the air, including the scoring strike on a third-and-nine play.

The Flames trimmed the deficit to one point, 7-6, with 1:17 left to play in the opening quarter. Liberty mounted a 13-play, 51-yard drive to reach the Charleston Southern 22-yard line, but the drive left Liberty with only three points on a 39-yard field goal by Probert.

The lead was pushed back to four points, 10-6, 11 seconds into the second quarter when Tyler Tekac sent a 38-yard field goal through the uprights. The scoring opportunity was set up by an 83-yard kickoff return by Darius Hammond, who entered the game leading the country in average kickoff return yardage (32.3).

The Buccaneers widened their lead to 17-6 with 10:47 left to play before halftime. Robinson took a handoff from Bucenell and then found a clear path to the end zone from 28 yards out, capping a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the visitors.

Charleston Southern scored on its fourth straight drive after the Buccaneers’ defense forced its third three-and-out series of the first half. Bucenell and Holloway helped Charleston Southern move down the field 56 yards on seven plays to set up the next score.

The pair kept the ball on the ground for five plays in a row, setting up a 20-yard pass play over the middle from Bucenell to Holloway at the 6:30 mark of the second quarter.

Calvert tried to get the Flames back in the game by finding Liberty’s top receiver Shells, but the freshman’s pass attempt was intercepted by Shadarius Hopkins.

On the game’s next play, Turner nearly picked off Bucenell for the second time in the game, tangling with Brown on a 45-yard pass attempt at 5:20. The redshirt freshman was able to come down with the ball and score his team-leading fifth touchdown to give the visitors a 31-6 lead going into the intermission.

The Buccaneers ensured that the momentum stayed in their favor to open the second half when Bucenell scampered 57 yards downfield to score. The redshirt freshman’s third rushing touchdown of the season gave Charleston Southern a 38-6 lead at the 13:55 mark of the third quarter.

The two teams combined for five touchdowns during the remaining 28-plus minutes of play. Liberty’s scores included Coaumin’s first collegiate touchdown, a 65-yard touchdown reception at the 5:47 of the third quarter, an eight-yard touchdown reception by B.J. Farrow at the 10:21 mark of the fourth quarter and a 48-yard touchdown pass to Shells with 90 seconds remaining.

The Buccaneers capped off their day with a one-yard touchdown run by Robert Mitchell at the 14:55 mark of the fourth and a 28-yard field goal by Tekac with 7:33 left in the contest.

The Flames will wrap up their regular season on Thursday evening when Liberty plays former Big South rival Coastal Carolina. Kickoff from Conway, S.C., will be at 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN3.

The Charleston Southern vs. Kennesaw State game will be the Big South TV Wildcard game for next weekend. Kickoff from Buccaneer Field on Saturday will be 11:45 a.m.

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