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Rutgers outlasts Liberty in shootout, 44-34

Offense wakes up for the first time in weeks behind Johnny Langan.

Liberty v Rutgers
Even banged up, Pacheco would not be denied today.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Another Saturday, another home underdog as the Scarlet Knights hosted the FBS Independent Liberty Flames. Last week Liberty scored on their first eight possessions. Rutgers hasn’t scored more than 16 points since the season opener. As it turned out, defense was hard to come by in the first half.

On the opening kickoff, Rutgers appears to come out of the pile with the football, but the officials ruled it still belonged to Liberty. On the ensuing drive, Liberty moved the ball with some big plays through the air, the biggest being a 38 yard trick throw from wide receiver DJ Stubbs to tight end Zac Foutz that got the ball down to the RU 29.

Rutgers answered with a 13 play, 75 yard touchdown drive of their own. It was mostly runs by Isaih Pacheco and Langan with some Aaron Young mixed in. Langan only completed two passes, one to Pacheco and one to Bo Melton. RU did convert a key 4th and 1 from their own 34 that was key to keeping them in the game. Langan capped the proceedings with a three yard run to tie the game, 7-7.

Liberty got the ball back and covered 85 yards in just six plays. The Flames surprised Rutgers with five of the six plays being runs. Those included two gougings by Joshua Mack on an 18 yarder and a 43 yarder. Frankie Hickson also added a 16 yard scamper. 14-7, Flames.

Rutgers once again answered, 13 plays, 75 yards. The key play was a 19 yard connection to Daevon Robinson on 3rd and 8 that moved the ball from the RU 39 to the Liberty 42. Rutgers wouldn’t face another 3rd down after that and eventually Pacheco punched it in from just one yard out for the score, 14-14.

Liberty could not be stopped on their third drive either, requiring just four plays for 73 yards. Calvert completed two big throws on the drive the first of which went for 40 yards. The second of which came on a 3rd and 6 at the RU 29, but went for a score. 21-14, Liberty.

Rutgers yet again matched the visiting Flames, this time with an 11 play, 75 yard touchdown drive. Matt Alaimo had an 8 yard catch, Bo Melton had the big gainer on a 27 yarder, and Eddie Lewis hauled in a huge 11 yarder on a 3rd and 5. Eddie also earned a touchdown catch to help tie the game yet again at 21.

Finally on their 4th drive of the game, Liberty did not come away with points and instead went three and out. RU managed a first down, but punted with twenty four seconds remaining and that was pretty much it for the first half of play. Game remained, 21-21.

Halftime stats: First Downs: RU 15, Liberty 11. Total yards; Liberty 246, RU 234. Passing yards: Liberty 148, RU 96. Time of possession: RU 19:42, Liberty 10:18.

RU got the rock to begin the second half. Their third play brought up a 3rd and 3 at their own 32 yard line, but Nunzio Campanile had to call a timeout, just one minute and five seconds into the half. The timeout did work in the moment, as Langan found Isaiah Washington for a 12 yard gain.

On the next 3rd down, Langan hit Isaiah Washington on a perfect slant throw that resulted in a long 50 yard touchdown after the Flames could not bring him down. This poor downfield tackling is something we saw from Liberty earlier this year so it was good to see RU take advantage. This was surely Langan’s best throw since he took the reins for Rutgers and the took their first lead of the game, 28-21.

Could the Rutgers defense build on the stop they got late in the 1st half? It didn’t start out well as Liberty broke a decent kick return to their own 31 yard line to start things off. On their second play, backup quarterback Brandon Robinson was inserted in the game, but was sacked by Elorm Lumor after some indecision in the backfield. Rutgers brought pressure, yet Calvert back in the game on 3rd and 11 hit what was either a screen or simple check down to his running back. Rutgers had a few decent chances to bring him down at the line of scrimmage, but once Hickson got loose, he turned it into a 27 yard gain to the RU 36 for a huge momentum swing.

After an obvious facemask by Tyshon Fogg, Liberty gained 15 more yards but ultimately had a 3rd and 7 at the RU 10. Rutgers had the play dead to rights would good perimeter pursuit, but Elorm Lumor put his arm out while being blocked and inadvertently touched the facemask of Mack. This automatic first down was another huge play in the game because it gave Liberty four more chances to score a touchdown inside the RU 4.

Liberty got the ball to the 1 on their first run by QB Calvert, but was stuffed at the 1 twice in a row setting up a 4th and goal from the 1. Liberty initially planned to go for it, but two players jumped offsides moving them back to the 6. Instead, the Flames called on reliable kicker Alex Probert who nailed the short field goal. 28-24, Rutgers still leading.

Rutgers would have gained big yardage if Pacheco got the ball on their first play, but Langan elected to keep it himself and somehow powered for 17 yards straight up the gut. Rutgers just kept pushing the pile at the end and the few fans in attendance were really energized by the individual and team effort. Another individual effort saved the drive when Langan threw the ball into a tight window and Washington took a huge hit, but held onto the ball on 3rd and 8 for a 12 yard gain to the Liberty 28.

Rutgers faced a 3rd and 1 at the Liberty 19. Rutgers went bunch left, but Liberty shifted to a zero coverage like the Patriots did on Monday Night Football. Rather than throw the quick bubble screen, Langan kept the playcall which was an option run. The outside rusher came free and Langan flipped the ball to Pacheco at the last possible moment. Isaih initially struggled to control the rock, but with good man to man blocking from the receivers, Pacheco took the ball outside and went untouched into the end zone for his second score of the game. Rutgers 35, Liberty 24.

The ensuing kickoff resulted in a huge hit by Larry Stevens and fumble. After a mad scramble that saw half a dozen players a shot to recover the football, walk-on Aslan Pugh came out of the pile with it for Rutgers. RU missed a golden opportunity to make it a three score game and settled for a Justin Davidovicz field goal. Rutgers 38, Liberty 24.

As the third quarter ran out, Liberty was rushing to get a play off. It turned out to be very critical, because in the haste, the Flames were called for a false start with just one second left on the clock. After the ball was reset, the last second ticked off and the 4th quarter would begin with Liberty facing a 3rd and 6 at their own 28 yard line.

Rutgers held the 14 point advantage with just 15 minutes to play and that ensuing third down for Liberty resulted in disaster for the visitors. Rutgers came out with a three man front and brought inside linebacker Rashawn Battle as the 4th man. He completely blew up the running back as the right guard just let him through and easily brought down Calvert for a major sack.

Rutgers dodged a bullet on the ensuing punt when a gunner and return man collided just inches away from coming into contact with the ball. After RU kept possession a their own 36, you could tell the Scarlet Knights offensive line had worn down the Liberty defensive front up to this point. The big guys up front drove the Flames two yards back on a 3rd and 1 setting up an easy conversion. The same thing happened again on the subsequent 3rd and 2 when Langan went over the 100 yard plateau on the ground. On the next play, Rutgers tried a risky pass into double coverage, but Isaiah Washington literally ripped the ball out of the defenders arms and earned himself a first down. The drive would stall, but Davidovicz converted another short field goal to provide a three score cushion and 8:04 remaining in the game. Rutgers 41, Liberty 24.

Liberty faced a 4th and 12 and was gifted a first down on a terrible play by Avery Young. Young grabbed the arm of the receiver and was flagged for pass interference. The worst part was, the throw was short of the sticks, so if Avery just let the ball be caught (which may not have happened anyway) and made the simple tackle, it would have been a turnover on downs. After moving the ball into RU territory, Rutgers held the Flames to a field goal that cut it to a two score game, Rutgers 41, Liberty 27. 5:36 remaining in the game.

Liberty lined up for an onside kick and ultimately recovered the first chance, but was flagged for offsides on a very questionable call. Then a soft unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved Liberty even farther back. The subsequent kick went just six yards so RU took over at the Liberty 21 yard line. Davidovicz added another field goal to make it 44-27 and just 3:22 remained on the clock.

Liberty punched in a garbage time touchdown with just 28 seconds remaining. 44-34.

Key stat(s): Pacheco carried 19 times for 107 yards and 2 TD. Langan carried 21 times for 118 yards and a TD.

Additional Takeaway(s): For those who read our game predictions, I didn’t see this type of offense coming from RU. Not only was Johnny Langan accurate and on time with a lot of his throws, Rutgers was incredibly precise on their 3rd down execution. Johnny completed 15 of 21 passes for 192 yards and 2 TD. RU was 12 of 17 on 3rd down and two of the misses came late in the game when RU was more than content to just take the field goal.

The offensive line played a great game. They kept their quarterback mostly upright unless the defense brought more people than they had to block. In the run game, they broke the will of the Flames. I’ll have to rewatch the film, but on first glance, the left guard position anchored by 5th year senior captain Zach Venesky was the primary running lane.

Drew Singleton and Tyshon Fogg’s hustle and enthusiasm were critical in the second half. RU could not get a stop until late in the first half, but they were running over, around, and through people in the second half to make plays. That energy was contagious and Liberty did not have the defensive personnel to do the same on their side.

B1G Boy Football: I have to give Langan credit for the pounding he took today by sheer volume. Without his taking the ball time and time again on QB option runs, Rutgers may have been blown out in this game. Amazingly, Langan is the first RU quarterback to crack the century mark on the ground in a game since the 1960s.

Next up: Rutgers travels to Illinois next week for their annual crossover matchup.

Look for more coverage of this game and the news heading into the Illinois game here at

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Box Score

Watch Nunzio Campanile Postgame Presser