CHARLOTTESVILLE — Liberty quarterback Buckshot Calvert underwent a transformation throughout his senior season. The ill-fated throws that plagued his junior campaign haven’t happened as frequently throughout the season’s first 10 games, which led to more efficient offensive production.
In a brief moment early Saturday afternoon against Virginia, Calvert reverted back to his previous gunslinger mentality of needing to make a play. A single throw, which should have been thrown away while under duress, brought his effective performance to a screeching halt and opened the floodgates for the Cavaliers to seize complete control.
Calvert’s first interception in more than two months was the momentum shift that unleashed the Cavaliers’ offensive bombardment. UVa flexed its muscles and never relented in clobbering the Flames 55-27 before an announced crowd of 37,392 at Scott Stadium.
“That’s definitely something I wish I could have back. It hurt the team really bad,” Calvert said after completing a dismal 16 of 40 passes for 283 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “ … It hurt us. As you could tell, it did affect the outcome of the game.”
Calvert’s first interception since Sept. 7 at Louisiana — a span of 295 attempts — not only shifted the momentum completely over to the UVa side, it also derailed an 11-minute stretch in which the Flames (6-5) erased a 10-point deficit with quality defensive adjustments and an offense that found its rhythm against the Cavaliers (8-3).
“There is no question it gave them some momentum,” Flames coach Hugh Freeze said.
Liberty reached the UVa 38 and had an opportunity to take a two-score lead. On a run-pass option play, wide receivers Antonio Gandy-Golden and CJ Yarbrough ran routes to the middle of the field that resulted in a congested mess and nowhere for Calvert to throw the ball.
The signal caller rolled out of the pocket to buy time and elected to throw the ball through the back of the end zone to live to see another play.
“I believe I was outside the pocket, so I could have thrown it out of bounds. I don’t know why that didn’t come to my mind; I was thinking more of intentional grounding than throwing it away,” Calvert said. “Just some stuff that I did last year that kind of came back to haunt me in this game.”
The long throw, however, hung in the air and gave UVa boundary cornerback De’Vante Cross time to settle and record the easiest interception of his career.
“I just thought, ‘Wow, he really threw it out here as a freebie,’” Cross said, “so I just took advantage of it.”
Cross’ subsequent return gave the Cavaliers the ball in Liberty territory and the momentum to begin an onslaught that turned a competitive battle into a decisive rout.
Lamont Atkins capped the ensuing drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to kickstart a 15-minute stretch in which four different UVa players scored touchdowns for a commanding 38-14 lead. Even when the Cavaliers did not score, they never allowed the Flames to sniff a semblance of momentum with a relentless defensive attack that confused the Liberty offense.
“It was definitely a big swing,” LU redshirt senior rover Elijah Benton said.
“Those little moments are important; you have to find a way to make a play to get the momentum back. We weren’t able to do that.”
Calvert opened the game completing 8 of 14 passes for 153 yards with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Noah Frith that put the Flames ahead 14-10. After the second-quarter interception, he completed eight of his next 25 attempts for 135 yards, a third-quarter touchdown to Gandy-Golden and another interception at the hands of Cross in the fourth quarter.
“We were up 14-10 and we went off the rails doing things we haven’t done” this season, Freeze said. “It felt like from that point forward that we weren’t very well-coached in all facets of the game. … It felt like it carried over into the locker room, and we never responded, which falls on me and my staff.”
Calvert’s evolution this season has seen him become better-equipped to make decisions under pressure. He felt defensive onslaughts frequently last season that resulted in a career-high 18 interceptions.
He entered Saturday with a meager three interceptions and none since the second drive of the first quarter at Louisiana.
But four of his five interceptions have come against ACC teams this season, with Syracuse and Virginia each recording two picks. The Flames also allowed a combined 11 sacks in those two games.
“They did a really good job getting after us,” Calvert said of UVa’s defense. “Their defense was really trying to bring some pressure. They really did a good job switching up their defenses and their fronts and everything like that. They were well-prepared and came out fighting.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.