Brandon Robinson’s first play in a Liberty uniform is one he’ll never forget.
The redshirt freshman was inserted in at quarterback on a second-and-goal play from the Hampton 2-yard line midway through the first quarter, and he promptly found the end zone around the left side to give the Flames a two-touchdown lead.
The few seconds that followed after the score changed Robinson’s role on offense for the remainder of the season.
Johnathan Bennett, who served as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart behind starter Buckshot Calvert for the first four weeks, suffered a significant left knee injury during the celebration with Robinson following the score.
Bennett tweeted after the game his “season has ended from a freak accident.” The program has not disclosed the extent of Bennett’s injury.
“First I thought he just fell, so I tried to help him up. Then once I realized he was hurt, I didn’t really know what to think,” Robinson recalled as he choked back tears. “It just didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel right.”
Bennett’s injury means Robinson likely becomes the primary backup for the remainder of the season. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Robinson played three of the final four drives against the Pirates (2-2) and only attempted one pass with the Flames (2-2) owning a massive lead.
“It was good to be able to get him in there and get those reps live,” wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden said of Robinson. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in both receiving yards (544) and receiving yards per game (136).
Robinson didn’t play with Gandy-Golden or the other starting skill position players, but the first-string offensive line remained in the game for the third quarter and into the fourth with Robinson to give him experience with the group.
Those snaps for Robinson gave the Flames three quarterbacks behind Calvert who have college experience.
Landon Brown has played the final two series of the past two games, and his only responsibility has been to hand the ball off to either Joshua Mack or Frank Boyd to run off the final minutes off the clock. Henry Van Dellen has not played for Liberty this season and completed 4 of 9 passes for 27 yards in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2017 with FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.
“It was hugely important to get him some plays,” Flames coach Hugh Freeze said of Robinson. “We didn’t play Buckshot or a lot of starters but one series in the second half on offense. We played them a little more on defense. You’ve got to get him some reps, and now Landon’s got to get some reps and probably Henry, too. Henry can really throw it.
“We’ll have to get everybody and look at them in practice and kind of see where we go from there. We’ll hopefully be healthy with our starter and not have to worry about that, but you’ve got to prepare for it.”
Robinson said the only work he has practiced with the offense has been the tight red zone package as a running option, and now he’ll begin throwing more in practices to be prepared in case he has to enter in passing situations.
Robinson's lone pass against Hampton, intended for Brody Brumm, fell incomplete after he was hit while throwing, and a third-down completion for a first down to Brumm was negated by an ineligible receiver downfield penalty. But the Maplewood, New Jersey, native ran for a game-high 105 yards on seven carries. Seventy-five of those yards came on a third-and-20 touchdown run on the first series of the fourth quarter. He slipped through several would-be tacklers and accelerated into open space near midfield to outrace a pair of defenders to the end zone.
“It was good to get in and get my feet wet,” he said. “It was my first time touching the field in a long time, so now I’ve got to see the speed of the game. It’s a lot different, but it was important. It was big.”