Liberty Football 03

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze celebrates after his team scores a touchdown against Hampton at Williams Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. 

Johnathan Bennett, the backup quarterback to starter Buckshot Calvert, will miss the remainder of the season after he suffered a left knee injury while celebrating a touchdown in the first quarter of Liberty’s matchup with Hampton on Saturday at Williams Stadium.

Bennett tweeted after the game: “ … my season has ended from a freak accident suffered while celebrating with my man on his first touchdown! @brandonrobinsonqb I love you bro and I was probably more excited than you were but everything happens for a reason! Godspeed! #believein6”

Bennett was celebrating Brandon Robinson’s 2-yard touchdown on the redshirt freshman’s first play in his Liberty career. Robinson entered the game in a goal-line package at the Hampton 2. He faked the handoff to Peytton Pickett and rushed around the left side to give the Flames a 13-0 lead.

Robinson, coming off the field, was greeted in celebration by Bennett. And that’s when the feel-good moment turned sour.

Bennett leaped to celebrate with Robinson, and his left knee buckled when he landed on the turf. Bennett, a freshman, attempted to get up but was unable to because of the pain.

“When they jumped up, I literally was right beside them,” Liberty senior wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden said. “ … I didn’t think he was hurt; I was thinking he was about to pop up. That happens a lot. I go to the sideline just to celebrate with everybody, and then I saw him still on the ground and I was like, ‘Ah. OK, he must have hurt himself.’ I didn’t think it was anything serious, you know? Then they finally came and told us it was something with his knee. Praying for him. Hope he’s OK.”

The Liberty trainers fitted an air cast around Bennett’s left knee, and he was taken off the field on a cart. The freshman returned to the sideline in the second quarter sporting a knee brace and needed the assistance of crutches to stand.

He was with his teammates for the second half, as well.

Bennett becomes the second player lost for the season with a significant knee injury. Tight end Michael Bollinger suffered a fractured left leg during last weekend’s victory over Buffalo and underwent surgery to insert a plate earlier this week, according to Flames coach Hugh Freeze.

Getting the run game on track

Liberty’s rushing attack hadn’t gained much traction in the season’s first three weeks. Take away Frankie Hickson’s 66-yard touchdown run against Louisiana and the offense mustered 148 yards on 88 attempts.

That changed in a big way in the fourth quarter against Hampton.

The Flames rushed for 176 yards on 11 attempts over the final 15 minutes against the Pirates and finished with 256 yards on 38 carries.

Robinson led the way with 105 yards and two scores on seven attempts, while Troy Henderson added 63 yards and a touchdown on four carries.

Robinson picked up 75 yards on a touchdown run, while Henderson broke loose for a 59-yard score that sealed the victory.

“We got into the flow of things in the second half and kept on running,” said running back Joshua Mack, who had 55 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 10 attempts.

Freeze’s back feeling better

Freeze coached from the raised podium behind the team bench for the second straight week, standing for the majority of the 3-hour, 16-minute contest.

He said he was given pain medication before the game to help with the lingering effects from a back surgery for a staph infection on Aug. 16.

“I was walking really good after the game. Actually most pain I feel is sitting,” he said. “It might wear off, but I got good reports this week, and I think I can start being more active. They want me to judge it accordingly to how I feel, but everything looked pleasing to the docs. So I’m thankful.”

Freeze said an MRI originally scheduled for this upcoming Friday was moved up to Thursday, which is why he left that practice early.

“They may do another one, I don’t know, but the main doctor said let’s go on and do it," Freeze said. "I was like, ‘Look, I’m at a point now where I get watching practice and coming when I can and you want me to stay at home Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and I don’t feel like I’m getting that much better doing that. Am I at risk to go to practice and try it?’

"That’s when he said let’s get an MRI and now he’s turning me loose, and now he wants to judge it. I’m with him on it, because I certainly don’t want to go back to the spasms. We had one Thursday night, and it was pleasing to him. His exact words were, ‘Your back is ugly, but I’m pleased with where we are.’ I don’t know what that means exactly.”

An influx of youth

Liberty, thanks to its big second-half lead, emptied the bench to get a plethora of younger players experience at the collegiate level.

Among those were DJ Skelton and Marcellous Harris, players who have been relegated to special teams duty so far in their careers. Skelton played at cornerback, while Harris was inserted at strong safety.

On offense, wide receivers Brody Brumm, Michael Chorowicz and JT Wood saw their first extended action, and the same happened for tight end Mason Yost and offensive tackle Maisen Knight.

Those extended minutes gave several players who suffered injuries a chance to rest.

Freeze said cornerback Emanuel Dabney suffered a hamstring injury in the second half, which represents the setback he said he is “most worried” about. Cornerback Jimmy Faulks also left the game with an undisclosed injury, but Freeze said he thinks Faulks is “going to be OK.”

Cornerback Bejour Wilson suffered a foot sprain in the fourth quarter against Buffalo and was held out as a precaution. Wide receiver Noah Frith also was held out after missing the first three games with a fractured left foot. Freeze said both should be available against New Mexico.

“They’re getting better. We need Elisha Mitchell to get back, too, and Rion Davis. We need to be at full strength next week as much as possible,” Freeze said.

“We got a lot of people in tonight. I love seeing that. I love seeing the kids who work hard in practice get to be rewarded in front of their peers under the lights, and that was fun to see. That’s satisfying. Hopefully we can get some of the unhealthy back healthy next week.”

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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