CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern's record-setting football season came to a tough end with a 56-14 home loss to Liberty on Saturday at Buccaneer Field.
The Flames built a 21-0 lead and rode the momentum of four interceptions to a win to clinch a share of the Big South title and keep their slim FCS Playoff hopes alive.
CSU's season ends at 10-3 and 3-2 in Big South play. Liberty is 8-4 and ties Coastal Carolina at 4-1 for the Big South title.
The season-ending loss is a sour end to the best season in CSU football history, but won't be the defining note in a season that saw the Bucs win a school-record 10 games and reach No. 12 in the FCS Polls, the highest spot in school history. CSU head coach Jamey Chadwell had a tough time putting the disappointing end to the season behind him immediately following the loss, but was still aware of the strides the Bucs made.
"There are a lot of great things to take away from this season," Chadwell said afterward. "It was a special year. I do wish it would have ended on a more positive note. We had a special senior class and the way we were able to get this program turned around this season makes it a special year."
The loss dashed the Bucs hopes of their first Big South title in eight years and kept CSU from making the first FCS Playoff appearance in program history. The Bucs' senior class, although small and decimated by injuries, wanted to leave its mark.
"It was a tough loss just because of the last few seasons," Bucs' linebacker Calvin Bryant said. "We went 0-11 (in 2011). It has been a struggle and to be so close like we were this year to the playoffs, it stings. We had chances and we didn't take it. We didn't come out with the fire we needed to have. Give credit to Liberty, they came out and whipped our tails."
Liberty quarterback Josh Woodrum ran for a touchdown and threw for two more – he had three on the day - in building a 21-0 lead at the half. The Bucs' offense sputtered, with three first half interceptions and 112 total yards in the opening two quarters.
The Bucs were also their own worst enemy with 14 penalties for 87 yards, almost all before halftime.
"Obviously, this isn't the way we wish it would have went," Chadwell said. "But between three or four turnovers and all those penalties. . . if you give a team like that a lead, that is the kind of result you get. They had a lot to do with that too. They're a good team. You get down 21-0 at half like that, and it is tough to win. We had our chances, but just couldn't make the plays."
Liberty jumped to a 7-0 lead as Woodrum steered the Flames down the field on their opening drive. The sophomore was 5-of-5 on the drive through the air and raced in from 13 yards out on an option keeper for the first score of the game.
The Flames added to their lead in the second quarter as Woodrum found Dante Shells across the middle for 18 yards and Liberty's second TD. A defensive holding call on Bucs' safety Demaris Freeman kept Liberty's drive alive after Tre Deloach sacked Woodrum to set up a 2nd and 20, which the penalty erased. CSU was penalized three times on the drive including a pass interference call on 3rd-and-7 at the CSU 38 to again get a fresh set of downs.
Woodrum would guide another Liberty touchdown drive coming off an interception by Kenny Scott to set the Flames up at the CSU 48. Liberty would drive 48 yards in eight plays, scoring on a 3-yard pass from Woodrum to Dexter Herman to make it 21-0.
Holloway sparked the CSU offense and woke up the Charleston Southern crowd with the first play of the third quarter as the freshman running back took the option pitch around the left end, weaving his way down the field for a 58 yard carry, getting tackled at the Liberty 7 yard line. Two plays later, Copeland kept the ball on the option keeper, going into the end zone over the right tackle from four yards out as the Bucs used 1:18 to put their first points on the board, cutting the lead to 28-7.
Liberty answered on each of their next three drives, with Rice and Richardson combining for three touchdowns as the Flames took the 42-7 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Rice capped off the first drive as the Flames went seven plays and 78 yards with a two yard touchdown plunge up the middle with 9:07 remaining in the half. The Flames lead increased to 35-7 following Richarson's five yard run around the left side to cap off the eight play, 60 yard drive. Rice finished the scoring in the quarter, taking the ball up the middle from one yard out with six seconds on the clock to put the Flames ahead 42-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Flames lead reached 49-7 early in the fourth quarter as Woodrum capped off a five play, 58 yard drive with the play-action touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone with a five-yard completion to Gagliardi.
The Buccaneers offense used a 19-yard run by Copeland to advance the ball into Liberty territory, converting a 3rd-and-6 opportunity to push the ball to the Flames 42 yard line. he next play, off the play-action fake, Copeland found Sumpter on the seam route, connecting with the receiver and he stumbled backwards into the end zone on the touchdown reception with 8:43 remaining in the game to cut the deficit down to 49-14.
Woodrum finished 23-for-28 for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Croghan and Copeland combined to go 6-of-19 for 57 yards ith the big pass play coming on a 42-yard TD pass to Donte Sumpter in the fourth quarter.
Running back Christian Reyes' record-setting season comes to and end with 38 yards on 10 carries as he finishes with almost 1,300 career yards, the most ever for a Buc.
Senior Eli Lee had 10 tackles and two tackles for loss to lead the Bucs defense. Matt Hardy added nine stops in his final game at Buccaneer Field.