ICYMI: Bulldog defense finds no answer for Liberty

The margin for error is razor thin when you play a team that is undefeated on the first week of November.

And despite a very respectable offensive showing by Louisiana Tech Saturday, the defense struggled all night long getting stops as the Liberty Flames took a 56-30 win over the Bulldogs in Lynchburg, Va.

“We didn’t stop them,” Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie said. “We knew they had a really good offense. Their quarterback and their running back are really good, and their offensive line did a great job. And bottom line is we didn’t do a good enough job on defense, didn’t do enough on offense. Credit to Liberty. They’re a really good football team, and they’re undefeated for a reason. I’d be surprised if anybody does beat them.”

This game featured no shortage of offense, with both teams combining for 990 yards from scrimmage. LA Tech (3-7, 2-4 CUSA) could not muster enough stops defensively against the high-powered Liberty offense as the Flames scored touchdowns on eight of their ten drives while converting seven of eight third-down attempts.

Freshman Keith Willis Jr. was impressive, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns in his first game action since Sept. 9. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier finished with 304 yards through the air. Tru Edwards led the receivers with a career-high 85 years and one touchdown.

Louisiana Tech scored on the opening drive for the fourth time this season. Demarcus Griffin-Taylor’s 28 yard kickoff return combined with a Liberty clipping penalty gave Tech great field position as they started their drive on their own 43-yard line. An 11-play 48-yard drive capped by a 26-yard Jacob Barnes field goal gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead with 11:21 on the clock in the first quarter.

Liberty struck back just over a minute later with a three-play 75-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kaiden Salter to Bentley Henshaw gave the Flames a 7-3 lead.

On the ensuing Liberty drive, defensive lineman Zion Nason pounced on a fumble by the Flames’ Quinton Cooley to give the ball back to the Dogs. Offensively the Bulldogs could not capitalize though as Liberty forced the second-consecutive three and out by the LA Tech offense.

Liberty extended it’s lead with a 24-yard strike from Salter to C.J. Daniels to make it 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

A questionable offensive pass interference call against the Bulldogs inside the Liberty 20-yard line took away an opportunity to put more points on the board and forced the Bulldogs to punt on the first drive of the second quarter. The Flames then drove 92 yards, finding the endzone on an Aaron Bedgood rushing touchdown from five yards out to make it 21-7 in favor of the hosts.

The Bulldogs answered on a four-yard rushing touchdown from freshman Keith Willis Jr. to make it 21-10 with 1:51 left in the first half. The touchdown was Willis Jr.’s fourth of the season as the Houston, Texas product made his return after suffering an injury during the 51-21 win over Northwestern State back on Sept. 9.

Liberty took a 28-10 lead into intermission with a Salter connecting with Bedgood on a four-yard touchdown pass with just six seconds on the clock.

The Flames added another touchdown on the opening drive of the second half when Salter found Noah Frith on a 55-yard touchdown pass.

Keith Willis Jr. found the end zone again on a two-yard rush with 9:01 left in the third quarter. Tech then converted a two-point conversion, bringing the Bulldogs within 17.

Both squads traded scoring touchdowns on the ensuing drives. Quinton Cooley scored a touchdown on a 29-yard rush with 2:31 left in the stanza. LA Tech answered with a five-play 75-yard drive that was capped by one-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Bachmeier to Smoke Harris.

Cooley added another rushing touchdown on the ensuing drive before the Bulldogs fought back with a touchdown of their own on a nine-yard pass from Bachmeier to Tru Edwards. LA Tech then went for two but the attempt failed as Jacob Fields’ halfback pass was intercepted in the endzone, leaving the score at 49-30 with 10:48 remaining.

On the ensuing possession, Liberty would be stopped on third down for the first time all game, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity with 8:14 left on the clock. LA Tech would gain one first down before turning the ball over on downs near midfield.

The Flames would close out the game with one more touchdown with 2:17 left to play.

The loss now negates any chances for the Bulldogs to become bowl eligible by the end of the season.

Tech will return to Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. for a homecoming matchup against Sam Houston State.

“When you play a team like Liberty, if you have a margin for error at all, it is razor thin,” Cumbie said. “You hope they do something on third downs to give you a break. You hope they give you a break on early downs to put you into positions to give you a stop. We did that, third and three, penalty, third and long and we get two penalties. We have to get it cleaned up and get ready to play Sam Houston State.”