While Coastal Carolina was celebrating a come-from-behind win Saturday night, Liberty was reeling from a second-straight game that got away.
Coastal’s 19-point second-half comeback to force overtime and eventually win 55-52 inside Williams Stadium came after the Flames surrendered a 10-point lead in the final four and a half minutes in their last game two weeks ago at Old Dominion.
“It’s disappointing,” Flames coach Turner Gill said in his postgame news conference. “... Part of it, myself, is I’ve got to do a better job of coaching. I’ll take responsibility for that. I’m the head coach. I’ve got to make sure our players are performing at a level where they’re able to succeed. I’ve got to do a better job as a football coach.”
It was actually the third fourth-quarter heartbreak for Liberty (3-4, 0-1 Big South) this year. The Flames also had a 10-7 fourth-quarter lead at Kent State earlier this season before losing to the FBS foe.
“This is pretty demoralizing,” junior running back Desmond Rice said. “We fought hard for four-plus quarters. We really wanted this ballgame. To lose like that is pretty tough.”
Gill, in his second season at Liberty, went 6-5 last year after an 0-4 start and led the Flames to a 5-1 conference record to claim a share of the Big South title.
Liberty now falls into a tough position in the league race this fall with Coastal already earning wins over its top two challengers – Gardner-Webb and the Flames – with only a matchup against an improved Charleston Southern team posing any realistic challenge the rest of the way.
“I love our football players. I love our team. I love our coaches,” Gill said. “Great effort. Obviously, it comes down to Coastal made more plays than we did. Simple as that. They executed when they needed to execute. Overall, they had a good game plan. We had a play or two here that we wished we would have made. Again, you have to give credit to Coastal. I guess that’s why they’re the fourth-rated team in the country. They played like that.”
Hazel breaks out
Coastal senior receiver Matt Hazel gave Chanticleer fans a scare in the third quarter Saturday night as he was slow to get up after making a leaping and twisting 46-yard catch on the sideline.
Hazel had missed a game earlier this season with a shoulder injury sustained during another awkward landing, but he brushed this one off and returned to the field to finish off his season-best performance: nine catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
“I banged my shoulder a little bit, but it wasn’t too serious,” Hazel said.
His 46-yard grab late in the third quarter sparked a pivotal Coastal scoring drive that he later capped with a 13-yard touchdown catch as the Chants cut their deficit to 42-30 at the time.
The nine catches is the third-best performance in program history – Niccolo Mastromatteo and Jerome Simpson each had 10-catch games – and the 147 yards is the sixth-best all-time.
“Coach Patenaude told me, ‘We’re going to need you this game,’ ” Hazel said, referring to offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. “... It’s just that connection [quarterback Alex Ross and I] have had since summer.”
Senior running back Lorenzo Taliaferro’s 151-yard effort Saturday ties Mike Tolbert for the 11th-highest single-game rushing total in program history. In seven games this season, Taliaferro has five of the top-13 rushing performances on that list.
With 986 yards thus far, he now ranks second on the program’s single-season rushing list behind Patrick Hall’s mark of 1,107 in 2004.
Meanwhile, his four rushing touchdowns Saturday tied a school single-game record and allowed him to break the Chants’ single-season record – he’s up to 17 now.
“It means a lot, but none of that could get done without our line,” Taliaferro said.
Freshman strong safety Alex Scearce recorded his first career interception in the first quarter. ... Junior linebacker Quinn Backus again led Coastal with 10 total tackles and notched two tackles for loss while sophomore safety Richie Sampson added nine stops. ... Liberty sophomore quarterback Josh Woodrum passed for a career-high 382 yards in the loss.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or follow him on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.