Shedro Louis’ eyes grew as wide as the running lane that opened right in front of him. He easily followed the blocks established by Thomas Sargeant and Brendan Schlittler, and the only thing Louis had to do was make a decisive cut and accelerate with only green turf ahead of him.
The speedy Liberty sophomore easily scored on a lengthy touchdown run midway through the first quarter, zapping any momentum Syracuse had seized mere seconds earlier.
That run play embodied the Flames’ offensive mentality and showcased their ability to dominate the line of scrimmage at will against the depleted Orange defense.
Liberty rushed for a whopping 338 yards, led by Louis’ career-high 170 yards, and the Flames recorded their first victory over an Atlantic Coast Conference program with a dominating 38-21 triumph Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.
“It was big. We showed them that we could run it,” Louis said of his 75-yard touchdown run that was the precursor to the Flames’ offensive success. “The line blocked great, everybody executed their part and we busted them back in the mouth.”
The Flames (5-0) lost their previous eight games against ACC opponents, and Louis made sure early Liberty was going to remain competitive against the Orange (1-4, 1-3 ACC).
Louis’ first touchdown scamper came 18 seconds after Syracuse took an early touchdown lead, and the Flames never trailed again.
“That was huge at that moment because they had just scored and we needed to answer pretty quickly to keep our confidence where it needed to be,” Flames coach Hugh Freeze said. “That was a huge answer at a critical time.”
Louis entered Saturday’s game with 140 rushing yards on 23 carries. He easily shattered his previous career bests by totaling his 170 yards on only 10 carries thanks to his touchdown runs of 75 and 52 yards.
The second long touchdown run came midway through the second quarter to put the Flames ahead 21-14.
It was a scoring response one drive after Syracuse tied the game on Rex Culpepper’s 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hackett.
“It started with the O-line,” Louis said. “Those guys were blocking great.”
Liberty redshirt senior and New York native Joshua Mack did not play against Syracuse. Freeze said Mack, who entered the game 12th in the nation with 359 rushing yards, got sick Friday “with the stomach bug” and was too weak to play.
That meant Louis and Peytton Pickett were going to receive ample running opportunities to wear down a Syracuse defense that has lost several starters to injury, including All-American safety Andre Cisco, who has already declared for the NFL Draft.
Pickett posted season highs of 23 carries and 115 yards, and his 16-yard touchdown run with 2:58 remaining in the third quarter gave Liberty a 35-14 lead.
The Flames racked up 338 rushing yards and finished with 520 yards of total offense.
“Just challenged that O-line and those two backs, and boy did they answer in a big way,” Freeze said. “Really, really proud. Without us being able to run the ball today like we did, it would have been tough sledding for sure.”
Culpepper, making his first start since the 2017 season, completed 19 of 40 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns.
He helped the Orange cut the deficit to 35-21 on his 21-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Queeley, but the highlights were few and far between for the redshirt senior who unleashed several wobbly passes and looked out of rhythm at times with the Liberty pass rush forcing him to rush his throws.
Culpepper’s final two touchdown passes were separated by nearly 31 minutes of game time, allowing the Flames to methodically pull away thanks to a bruising running attack that left little doubt on the game’s outcome.
“It felt really good. It was a team effort,” Liberty sophomore defensive end TreShaun Clark said. Clark had one of the Flames’ three sacks. “It feels good just to know we came together as a team and played hard on both sides.”
The Flames, according to Freeze, were fortunate to lead 21-14 at the half, despite amassing 258 rushing yards and 317 yards of total offense.
Liberty committed two first-half turnovers, including losing a fumble inside the Syracuse 5 late in the second quarter. However, the Orange were unable to capitalize off those turnovers with points.
“We were kind of fortunate to be up at half with field position and the two turnovers we had,” Freeze said.
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