ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A back-shoulder pass to Antonio Gandy-Golden was almost automatic for Liberty during Saturday’s game at New Mexico.
Flames offensive coordinator Joe Dailey went to the play on a big third-down call late in the fourth quarter, and the junior wide receiver ensured the Flames were leaving Dreamstyle Stadium with their first road victory as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
Gandy-Golden caught 11 passes for a Liberty single-game record 245, and his 50-yard reception on Liberty’s final drive allowed the Flames to cap a dramatic 52-43 victory that saw the Lobos’ nearly erase a 32-point halftime deficit.
Liberty quarterback Buckshot Calvert, who dealt with cramping in both legs and an upset stomach, delivered a third-down completion to Gandy-Golden for the first down.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver broke a tackle, stayed in bounds down the left sideline and was finally brought down at the UNM 12-yard line with a little more than two minutes remaining.
The drive resulted in Aaron Peart’s 22-yard field goal that extended the Flames’ lead to nine after the Lobos (2-2) cut the deep halftime deficit to six points with 5:07 remaining.
“We just needed to win this,” Gandy-Golden said. “… I just knew we had to make a play.”
The back-shoulder throw was one of many Calvert connected on with his outside receivers Gandy-Golden and B.J. Farrow.
Gandy-Golden’s 245 receiving yards are the third-most this season and topped Chris Summers’ mark of 240 yards he set in 2011 at Stony Brook.
Farrow caught seven passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.
“That comes from a lot of practice. We practiced that every single day throughout the week,” Calvert said. “We knew coming into the game they were going to play a lot of man press, and that was going to be our strategy — throw the fade balls up to our big guys and get a lot of those catches going. That’s what made the offense roll, really.”
The back-shoulder throw to Gandy-Golden that sealed the victory came on third-and-4 from the LU 38. Gandy-Golden was able to get separation at the top of the route, and Calvert found him for the game’s decisive play.
“That’s another play we worked on,” Calvert said. “They thought we were going to run a fade. He broke out of it like a comeback and he made a couple of people miss and just hit it down the sideline and carried a lot of people with him.”
Calvert threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-41 passing. It was the third 400-yard passing game of his career.
The Flames (2-2) led 42-10 after a dominating first half. LU racked up 329 yards and scored on six of nine drives in the opening 30 minutes.
The defense limited the Lobos to 120 yards over the final nine drives of the first half after UNM marched 75 yards in four plays on its opening drive to take a 7-0 lead.
Corbin Jackson blocked a UNM punt, and the Flames scored one play later to take a 35-10 lead.
Liberty improved to 23-8 under Turner Gill when scoring on its first drive.
The Lobos, however, responded by cutting the deficit to 49-43 on Tyrone Owens’ 3-yard run.
Sheriron Jones, who came in at quarterback in the second quarter after starter Tevaka Tuioti was knocked out with a broken clavicle, complete 15 of 27 passes for career highs of 312 yards and four touchdowns.
However, he also was intercepted three times, including Isaac Steele’s game-sealing pick with 38 seconds remaining, and the LU defense had four interceptions in a game for the first time since 2014 against Charleston Southern.
“It just felt legit unreal; it felt amazing, it felt like I accomplished something,” Steele said of his second interception of the game that sealed the victory.
The Flames came up with two first-half interceptions that led to touchdowns. Bejour Wilson and Elijah Benton each recorded their first interceptions in a Liberty uniform.
“We knew that was going to be a major impact for us winning the game, getting a lot of turnovers,” Wilson said.
LU running backs Frankie Hickson and Peytton Pickett each had two rushing touchdowns.