LYNCHBURG, Tenn. – Liberty scored three touchdowns in the second half to break open a 7-0 game and go on to a 28-7 win over North Alabama at Williams Stadium.
In the season-opening game for the Lions and UNA’s first game against an FBS opponent since 1997, the Flames sacked UNA quarterbacks six times and forced three turnovers on the way to the win.
Liberty improved to 3-0 on the season, while UNA is 0-1.
UNA’s lone score came with 5:40 left in the game as Parker Driggers scored on a five-yard run out of the wildcat formation. Sam Contorno’s PAT made it 28-7. The TD was setup by an interception by K.J. Smith that gave UNA the ball at the Liberty 12-yard line.
UNA had three previous trips into the Redzone but had come away scoreless with a turnover and two missed field goals.
The late UNA score helped the Lions avoid being shutout for the first time since 2010. UNA has now scored in its last 110 consecutive games and the Lions have not been shutout in their three seasons on the FCS level.
UNA finished with 247 yards to 357 for the Flames. The Lions rushed for 63 yards and passed for 184.
North Alabama quarterback Blake Dever was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after being hit on a targeting play against Liberty. He did not return.
Rett Files went 15-of-24 for 156 yards in his first serious collegiate action. He was intercepted twice.
“They came out in the second half and got after us a little bit,” said UNA head coach Chris Willis. “There were about five glaring plays, with turnovers and some crucial penalties that really hurt us. They wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game but it would have kept us in it.
“The main thing is we have our first game under our belts and we can go back and break it down on film and go from there,” Willis added. “I was pleased in a lot of areas, but we’ve got to be able to put the ball in the end zone. I liked our team’s attitude, even in the fourth quarter. They were wanting to go down and get a touchdown and they were able to do it.
“We also have to eliminate mistakes. You can’t play an FBS team, especially one of this quality, and help them with turnovers and have a chance,” Willis said.
The game was scoreless midway through the second quarter when Liberty had its first scoring opportunity. With a third down call at the North Alabama nine, UNA’s Wallace Cowins broke through and tackled Liberty’s Demario Douglas for a three-yard loss, forcing a field goal attempt.
LU’s Alex Barbir then had his 33-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright to keep the game scoreless at the 9:50 mark of the period.
Liberty was back deep in UNA territory moments later following a turnover. With UNA facing third-and-three at its own 27, Parker Driggers gained first down yardage on a run from the wildcat formation but fumbled and the Flames recovered at the UNA 40. Six plays later, Douglas caught a seven-yard TD pass from Chris Ferguson for the game’s first score. Barbir added the PAT to make it 7-0 at 6:12 of the second quarter.
On the following possession, a 47-yard pass from Rett Files to Andre Little put UNA at the Liberty seven-yard line, but on third down, Files was picked off in the end zone by Anthony Butler to end the threat with 3:57 left in the first half.
UNA had another scoring opportunity before the half, but after moving the ball to the Liberty 30-yard line, Files was sacked on third down. The Lions managed a 51-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the half but Joe Gurley’s kick was wide left.
Liberty scored on its opening possession of the second half to make it 14-0. A 46-yard Joshua Mack run moved the ball into UNA territory and Ferguson then hit D.J. Stubbs with a 12-yard scoring pass with 13:16 remaining in the third quarter. Barbir’s PAT made it 14-0.
On the ensuing Liberty possession, the UNA defense had stopped the Flames back at their own 25, but a personal foul on a third down sack gave LU the ball back. The Flames then drove 51 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown. A 30-yard Sheldro Louis run moved the ball into UNA territory and the Flames eventually scored on a two-yard pass from Ferguson to Brody Brumm.
Barbir’s PAT made it 21-0 at 5:37 of the third quarter.
Liberty then made it 28-0 with 14:23 left in the game on a five-yard TD pass from Johnathan Bennett to Chris Barrett.
Files led a 10-play, 62-yard drive to the Liberty 17-yard line but a 34-yard field goal attempt by Gurley was wide left with 7:26 left in the game.