Raleigh, NC: A game we deemed earlier this week a “must watch” lived up to its expectations, as a late blocked field goal from Wolfpack linebacker and special teams specialist Vi Jones helped NC State slip past previously unbeaten Liberty 15-14 Saturday night inside Carter-Finley Stadium.
Inside the numbers:
In a game many figured would be an offensive shootout turned out to be everything but. The Wolfpack out-gained Liberty 321-279 in total yards. Zonovan Knight spearheaded a dual rushing attack – finishing with 96 yards and two scores, while fellow backfield mate Ricky Person added 83 yards. Flames star quarterback Malik Willis was held well under his season averages. with 172 yards on just 13 completions and a season-high three interceptions.
The Wolfpack took the opening kickoff down the field, but stalled just inside the red zone settling for a 37-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left. Both teams then traded punts with NC State being called for a personal foul on Liberty’s second punt that kept the Flames drive alive. Liberty drove inside the 20 before the clock hit zero – ending the scoreless first quarter.
The Flames started the quarter facing a 4th and inches situation and were stopped on an odd play action pass call that resulted in a turnover on downs. NC State would finally get it going on offense, driving 59 yards in six plays ending in a 19 yard Zonovan “Bam” Knight touchdown run making the score 7-0. Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was picked off for just the second time this season by Jakeen Harris on the next Flames drive. The Wolfpack failed to take advantage of the good field position as Hockman was intercepted near the endzone by Liberty’s Cedric Stone. The turnover proved costly. Liberty drove 84 yards in 2:13, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Willis to Noah Firth tying the score 7-7 at the break.
Punts from both teams opened up the quarter. Liberty responded after a quick three and out from the Wolfpack, driving 53 yards in six plays resulting in Willis finding Jerome Jackson in the back of the end zone giving Liberty their first lead of the night at 14-7 with 7:11 left in the quarter. Hockman’s biggest play during the quarter would be a pooch punt that was downed at the three-yard line. On the next play, Isaiah Moore would tackle the Flames back in the end zone for a safety, trimming the Liberty lead to 14-9.
Both defenses settled in to start the quarter with NC State’s coming up with the huge turnover as Willis threw his second pick with to Ayden White. The Wolfpack regained the lead – going 26 yards in six plays, but failed on the two-point conversion attempt making the score 15-14 in favor of NC State with 6:53 left. On the next drive, Willis overshot his receiver and the pass was picked off by Issac Duffy with 6:00 remaining. Liberty would get the ball back inside the 10-yard line and drive down the field to set up the go-ahead 39-yard field goal that was blocked by Vi Jones with 1:18 left. Bam Knight iced the game on the following drive with a first down run which would send the Pack into victory formation ending the Flames perfect season.