LYNCHBURG, Va. – Paul Schumacher's 36-yard field goal in overtime was blocked and Gardner-Webb dropped a 23-20 heartbreaker on the road at Liberty Saturday in a Big South Conference thriller.
The loss was the fourth this season for Gardner-Webb (3-6, 1-2 Big South) by 10 points or less and third by one score.
The Flames (5-3, 3-0 Big South) had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Gardner-Webb iced freshman kicker Alex Probert, who missed a 39-yarder wide left as time expired. The Runnin' Bulldogs held firm in the first overtime possession defensively, forcing a 34-yard field goal by Probert that gave Liberty a 23-20 lead.
Gardner-Webb moved the football inside Liberty's 20-yard line on first down, but Tyrell Maxwell's pass on second down was dropped inside the five. A fade to Adonus Lee on third down was incomplete in the end zone, forcing Schumacher's 36-yard try from the right hash. A high snap and a push up the middle allowed Dexter Robbins to get a hand on the kick to end the game.
The Runnin' Bulldogs made a game of it from the start with physical defense, limiting the Flames to only a first quarter touchdown. A pair of drives inside the red zone for Gardner-Webb offensively didn't produce touchdowns, but Schumacher connected on a pair of field goals from 28 and 23 yards to cut the lead to 7-6 by halftime.
Liberty's first offensive drive of the third quarter allowed Gardner-Webb to take the lead. Just more than a minute into the second half, freshman phenom Jaylan Foster stepped in front of a Stephen Calvert pass near midfield and returned the pick 42 yards for a touchdown – giving Gardner-Webb a 13-7 lead with 13:51 on the third quarter clock.
The Runnin' Bulldogs were stout defensively the rest of the quarter, keeping Liberty off the board until the Flames used a short field after a punt to pull within three at the 5:12 mark. Probert connected on a 29-yard field goal after Gardner-Webb stiffened on defense to cap a drive that started at the GWU 33-yard line.
The Flames finally put a drive together to start the fourth quarter, going 69 yards in 13 plays before Gardner-Webb hunkered down in the red zone again. Probert chipped in a 21-yarder to tie the game with 11:08 left in the game.
Another short field for Liberty after a punt led to its first lead of the second half. Foster nearly had another game-changing play, leaping for a jump ball with Dante' Shells, but Shells was awarded the touchdown in the end zone – despite both players holding onto a piece of the ball as they fell to the turf. Probert's extra point gave Liberty a 20-13 edge with just 7:53 left. The drive covered just 41 yards on four plays.
The Runnin' Bulldogs had plenty of time to put together a drive to tie, however, and Maxwell was up to the task. With star running back Khalil Lewis sidelined for much of the fourth quarter with an illness, Maxwell directed Gardner-Webb on an 83-yard touchdown drive that lasted 12 plays and took 4:39 off the clock. The Cordova, S.C., junior connected with Adonus Lee over the middle for a 21-yard gain up to midfield and Jonathan Blackmon carried for 11 yards – bringing several Flames' tacklers with him – to keep the drive's momentum intact.
Maxwell then hit Mike Estes on an 11-yard gain to get the ball to the Liberty 39, but Liberty got stops on the next three plays to force a fourth-and-inches situation. Freshman Jayln Cagle bulled up the middle for a first down and Maxwell found Lee on the sideline for a nine-yard gain to the Flames' eight-yard line. Maxwell scampered eight yards and dove into the end zone on the next play – and Schumacher nailed the PAT – to tie the score with 3:05 left in the game.
Liberty drove well within field goal range on the ensuing drive, using a big play from Calvert to Carrington Moseley on 3rd-and-8 near midfield to keep its chances alive. Moseley took a swing pass and broke three tackles to pick up 27 yards down to the GWU 34-yard line. Another third down conversion pushed the ball to the 22-yard line and the Flames called a timeout with two seconds left to set up the potential game winner.
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray strategically used each of his three remaining timeouts in an attempt to ice Probert, who missed the try straight left as the clock went to zeros – setting up the wild finish in overtime.
The Runnin' Bulldogs had a tough day offensively until its late drive to tie, finishing with 265 total yards (131 rushing). Maxwell was on target passing for much of the day, but was victimized by six dropped passes to finish 11-of-26 for 134 yards. He ran 14 times for 49 yards and a score.
Lewis, despite battling flu-like symptoms for much of the week, carried 13 times for 44 yards and caught a 13-yard pass. It marked just the second time all season that Lewis had been held out of the end zone. Estes caught four passes for 61 yards and Lee hauled in four passes for 48 yards.
The Gardner-Webb defense limited a high-powered Liberty attack to just 291 total yards (109 rushing), and harassed freshman quarterback Calvert into a 14-of-23 effort with a season-high five sacks. GWU picked off Calvert twice in the game. Linebacker Chad Geter continued to build on his All-America resume, posting a game-high 11 tackles (eight solo) and a tackle for loss. Corey Horne tied a career-high with 10 tackles (eight solo) and Jeffrey Pegues had eight hits, 2.5 sacks and a quarterback pressure.
P.J. Fuimaono collected a career-best seven total stops and his fourth sack of the season and redshirt freshman end Davis Neilands collected five tackles (four solo) and 1.5 sacks. Foster (four tackles) and Aaron Cook (four tackles) each had interceptions, with Foster's pick six providing his second defensive touchdown of the season.
Calvert passed for 182 yards and a score, his first game under 300 yards through the air in Big South play. Moseley carried 21 times for 69 yards and caught a pair of passes for 32 yards coming off the bench. Todd Macon had 18 carries for 52 yards and a score and caught a 40-yard screen pass to set up his short touchdown run in the first quarter.
Alpha Jalloh and Robbins each had seven tackles (five solo) to pace the Flames defensively.
Gardner-Webb hits the road again next Saturday, traveling to face No. 9 Charleston Southern at noon. The Runnin' Bulldogs and Buccaneers will be broadcast live on The American Sports Network (ASN).