The first media timeout of Saturday’s game between Liberty and New Mexico State took a little longer than the traditional 2½-minutes.
The officials added time to the stoppage to allow the coaches in the booth to come down to the sidelines because New Mexico State’s headsets were not working properly. The Flames elected to not use theirs in order to give both teams a level playing field until the Aggies’ headsets were fixed.
It was an inconvenience for Flames coach Hugh Freeze and the offense in an up-and-down first quarter that featured 10 points, 137 yards of total offense and 25 yards worth of penalties.
“I hated it. I didn’t like it,” Freeze said bluntly. “There’s part of me … my flesh wanted to tell them we’re using ours, I don’t care what you do because there’s not a rule, and we could have done that. My spirit said do the gentlemanly thing and not use ours, but I have not done that in my career. Not being able to say what I wanted to call over the headsets was very uncomfortable. It cost us one delay. It was very uncomfortable.
“I’m glad our IT people, who are incredible, got something worked out where we could use them, because it would have been uncomfortable for me. The whole game would have been very uncomfortable.”
The coaches from both teams were on the sidelines for the entire first quarter.
NMSU’s headsets were operational at the beginning of the second quarter and the officials added an additional two minutes to the between-quarters break to allow the coaches to get back into the booth.
Firsts for the defense
Mason Wolk walked on to the Liberty football program prior to the 2017 season and he saw sporadic playing time on defense as a redshirt freshman last season.
His role has increased this season with more playing time at defensive tackle, and he finally reaped the benefits of that extra time on the field.
The Liberty Christian Academy product recorded the first interception of his career early in the fourth quarter that set up Frankie Hickson’s third touchdown run for a 42-21 lead.
Wolk was the quarterback spy on the play, and Adkins threw a pass that Wolk batted into the air and caught in one motion.
“He just happened to throw a low ball there and I was happy to catch it,” Wolk said.
Dupree made his first career start and finished with four tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Benjamin Alexander made his first career start at free safety and finished with six tackles.
Staying on the field
Flames defensive coordinator Scott Symons remained on the field for the game.
It was a change of view for him after he coached from the booth in each of the previous 11 games.
The move actually paid off in the long run against the Aggies (2-10).
The Flames (7-5) allowed 136 yards in the second half — 43 in the fourth quarter — and pulled away for a 49-28 victory.
“It was cool to have him down there because everything was quicker [with] all the communication,” Flames redshirt senior rover Elijah Benton said. “He was right there to be able to tell us what he sees and what he wants us to do.
“I feel like the communication was a little bit better with him on the sideline.”
Liberty senior linebacker Brandon Tillmon missed Saturday’s game after undergoing successful surgery to repair a broken left arm he suffered in last weekend’s loss at Virginia.
Then, less than eight minutes into the game, redshirt senior linebacker Solomon Ajayi was ejected for targeting when he lowered the crown of his helmet while attempting to tackle New Mexico State quarterback Josh Adkins.
That forced an already thin group to rely on Tyren Dupree and Waylen Cozad for the majority of the game. The two combined for six tackles and two quarterback hurries, while Remington Green received the most playing time he has at the position this season, finishing with three tackles and one tackle for a loss.
“I think it speaks for our resilience. We are not deep at linebacker; we’re nowhere near where we need to be in that room,” Freeze said. “To lose Tillmon to a surgery this week and to lose Solomon in the first quarter, I think it just speaks, again, to the resiliency of our kids.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.