The familiar story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is an accurate depiction of the season opening NGU-Liberty football game Saturday night in Lynchburg, Va. The team just wishes the biblical result had been similar. Despite a 49-10 loss to a significantly bigger, stronger Liberty squad, the Crusaders came away from Virginia with a positive feeling.
“I thought we played very well for big chunks of the game,” NGU Coach Mike Taylor said. “We made some mistakes on defense and with our kicking game, but overall, I’m very encouraged by our performance against a very strong team. Liberty was ready to play. They are a very strong team up front. We had a good initial push off the line on offense, but they always seemed to have one guy who would slip the block and make a tackle.”
The smaller Crusaders did manage to hold Liberty scoreless until the 4:15 mark of the first quarter when Zach Terrell scored on 15-yard scamper.
NGU had some good moments against Liberty in the first half. The Flames drove to the 21-yard line of the Crusaders on their first possession, but senior Emmauel Davis forced a fumble that Johnell Bell fell on to put NGU in business. The Crusaders used a series of accurate short passes and runs by running back Rashad Cummings and Matt Moore to move the ball to midfield on their first drive. Fierce pressure from the huge Liberty line, led by a 395-pound nose guard, forced sophomore quarterback Richard Harb into three first half interceptions. Coach Mike Taylor was nonetheless very happy with his rookie signal caller. “I was extremely pleased with Richard,” Taylor said. “He was playing in his first college football game and he didn’t lose his poise or panic. He made some big plays against a very aggressive defense. Two of the interceptions weren’t his fault, so I think you’re going to see some good things from him this season.”
One of those big chunks of offense came in the second quarter when NGU put together a 14 play, 67-yard drive that consumed 7:12 off the clock. It resulted in a Richard Sears’ 24-yard field goal with 2:17 left. Cummings rushed for 26 yards and Harb completed two big passes as NGU put together six first downs before the field goal. NGU trailed only 28-3 at halftime.
Following a Liberty touchdown to start the second half, NGU engineered yet another of those big chunks where they controlled the pace of the game. NGU forced another Flame fumble caused by freshman Nick Rosamonda and Johnell Bell recovered his second fumble of the game. NGU then drove 45 yards in seven plays and scored their only touchdown when Harb hit freshman Marcus Middleton in the corner of the end zone with a 15-yard pass.
NGU also showed it can control the ball as it took possession with 6:19 left in the game and drove 75 yards to the Liberty five yard line only to see Harb’s pass to Brandon Dobbins fall incomplete on fourth down on the last play of the game.
“I was very pleased with the play of our freshmen,” Taylor added. “We put those guys in a tough spot and they responded very well. It should show some of our upperclassmen that they need to step up their game. We’ll get there; we’ll learn from this experience.
It’s been said that teams improve the most between games one and two. I think we’ll see that. We firmed up the defense in the second half against Liberty to we’re very capable. I think we’re going to be a very good football team.”
Offensively, despite the huge disadvantage on the offensive line, Rashad Cummings rushed for 74 yards and Matt Moore had 24. Harb went 21-36 with one touchdown and Brandon Dobbins caught six passes for 60 yards and Joseph Rowe caught four passes for 30 yards.
A bright star on defense was senior defensive end Andre Bernardi. Bernardi had eight first half tackles and a big loss and two quarterback hurries (he finished with 9 tackles). Jereme Green had seven tackles, Emmauel Davis had six tackles and a sack, and Doug Wilson also had six. A positive note is that Liberty’s big O line allowed only 8 sacks all last season. NGU has already cut a big swath into that number for 2008.
The Crusaders were playing in from of the second largest crowd in Liberty history at
15,311, and the noisy, boisterous red-clad mass of LUnatics did not deter NGU. “Liberty has a great atmosphere, but that didn’t affect us. Our veteran players have been in situations like that before. Last year at North Carolina A&T’s homecoming; now that was a loud, rowdy crowd.
NEXT WEEK’S GAME: Next up for NGU will be its home opener against Wingate College of North Carolina Saturday. Wingate defeated St. Paul’s College of Petersburg, Va. 34-10 on the road. An NCAA II school, Wingate will be led by J.D. Moore at quarterback and running backs Nelson Woods and Patrick Pinchinat. Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. at Younts Stadium.
COACH JOE’S LOW COUNTRY BOIL, CONCERT BY SEABIRD TO PRECEDE NGU-WINGATE: Beginning at 4:00 p.m. Saturday evening in Tigerville, Credential Recording artists Seabird launch the festivities surrounding the season opener. The band will play until 6:00 p.m. Beginning at 5:00 p.m., Coach Joe’s Low Country Boil will available to fans. The mouthwatering seafood fest was held for the first time last season and a crowd of over 4,000 turned out. The Boil can be purchased for $10 for adults, $5 for students with I.D. and children ages 6-12.