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Leopards' Comeback Flames Out

Sept. 19, 2009

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EASTON, Pa. - A second-half comeback came up just short for Lafayette vs. No. 24 Liberty on Saturday night in the Leopards' home opener. Lafayette surrendered 16 points in the first half and trailed the entire game in the 19-13 final at Fisher Stadium.

Lafayette's (1-1) slow start resulted in just four first downs and 100 yards of total offense in the first half, while Liberty ran off 13 first downs and 211 total yards.

The Flames' offense was ready to go from the get-go, driving 60 yards on 12 plays. Lafayette forced a 4th-and-goal on the Flames' opening drive, but QB Mike Brown broke through on a one-yard touchdown run to give Liberty a 7-0 lead.

As the first quarter ran into the second quarter, the Lafayette offense was driving the ball down the field. Soph. Mitchell Bennett recorded a highlight-reel catch. He made a leaping grab, juggled the ball and maintained control for the first down on the first play of the drive. Senior QB Rob Curley later added a 34-yard strike to sophomore Greg Stripe. The Leopards settled for a field-goal attempt that junior K Davis Rodriguez missed wide left.

Liberty (2-1) added two scores late in the first half. With 2:01 remaining, Brown found Chris Summers, who finished with 14 catches for 138 yards, for a 29-yard touchdown reception. Soph. Mike Grimaldi blocked the extra point with the score at 13-0.

The second score came after a quick three-and-out by the Lafayette offense. The Flames took over after a punt on their own 36 and managed to get off a 26-yard field goal to end the half. Liberty capped off the first-half, with Matt Bevins' 26-yard field goal.

The Leopards came out of the locker room with some vigor. On their first possession of the third quarter, Bennett made another sparkling catch on a 3rd-and-6 to put the Leopards on Liberty's 18-yard line.

Lafayette finally found the end zone when senior TB Maurice White pushed his way through on a four-yard touchdown run to complete a 10-play, 70-yard drive that took 5:20 off the clock. Rodriguez's PAT made it a two-possession game (16-7).

The Flames could do nothing on their ensuing possession and the Leopards took over at their own five-yard line. Mark Layton may have made the catch of the night when Curley found him over the middle of the field for an over-the-shoulder, 37-yard grab.

Curley attempted to stretch out the defense on his next pass when he found an open Greg Stripe deep in Liberty's territory, but the outstretched Stripe couldn't hang on after the contact, and was shaken up on the play. On the next play, Curley threw his first interception of the season on a pass intended for and tipped by Kyle Hayes. Wes Cheek picked it off at the Lafayette 47-yard line.

Lafayette's defense held strong and forced Liberty to go for a 27-yard field goal. Ian Dell came through with the Leopards' first blocked field goal since Andrew Poulson blocked one against Penn on Sept. 27 of last season. The ball went out of the end zone and Lafayette took over on its own 20.

After picking up a lone first down, Lafayette was forced to punt. On the Flames' following drive, Bevins redeemed himself with a 37-yarder that gave Liberty its first points of the second half and a 19-7 lead.

Lafayette took little time to respond. Curley and the offense marched down the field and the QB found Layton for another big catch, this time a 37-yard touchdown strike. The drive also featured a 24-yard connection with Nathan Padia. Rodriguez's PAT was blocked, though, and Liberty maintained a 19-13 edge with 3:07 to play.

Lafayette's onsides kick was recovered by the skilled Brown who, in addition to being a QB, also spends time at wide receiver and kick and punt returner. Under center, Brown helped Liberty pick up two first downs and run out the clock. Liberty reached the eight-yard line where it had first-and-goal, but downed the ball three times to run out the clock.

Lafayette linebackers Mark Leggiero and Michael Schmidlein had standout individual performances, registering 15 and 14 tackles respectively. The defense, as a group, gave up 361 yards (256 of which came in the air). Liberty came into the game averaging 27.5 ppg and 313.5 yards of total offense.

Offensively, the Leopards' running game struggled, churning out just 70 yards rushing, the fewest since Oct. 4, 2008 against Harvard when the Leopards had 71 on the ground. Lafayette had 216 in the air, including long plays of 37, 34, 26 and 24 yards.

Lafayette remains home next Saturday as the team faces its first Ivy League opponent of the season when Penn visits Fisher Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff.