SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Liberty rushing leader Josh Mack came down with a stomach bug Friday night, so Shedro Louis got the nod and helped sink Syracuse in a big way.
The seldom-used running back scored on touchdown runs of 75 and 52 yards, quarterback Malik Willis passed for one score and ran for another, and Liberty beat Syracuse 38-21 on Saturday to remain undefeated.
It was the program’s first win ever against a Power Five conference team.
“I said ever since I was hired here I like doing things that are first,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “I like it for our program, for our kids, our administration, our fans. Really, really proud of our team. Our kids, the character showed. We were without a lot of kids for various reasons. Man, it’s just a great effort. I said this week it kind of expedites our expectations, where we are.”
Freeze said Mack could have played, but Louis and backfield mate Peytton Pickett more than picked up the slack.
Louis, a third-string sophomore, rushed for a career-high 170 yards for the Flames (5-0). Liberty, which averaged 250 yards on the ground entering the game, had 258 yards rushing in the first half and 338 for the game. In a 24-0 shutout over Liberty a year ago, Syracuse (1-4, 1-3 ACC) held the Flames to minus-4 yards on the ground.
Louis’ previous high was 57 yards against North Alabama earlier this season. His longest run from scrimmage was 30 yards in the same game. Entering the contest, Louis had just 23 carries for 140 yards in his career. He was a man of few words after the historic win.
“I stepped up. Next man up. Played my part,” Louis said. “It started with the o-line. Everybody was blocking great.”
Pickett, who added 115 yards rushing, scored on a 16-yard run.
“That was the challenge that we made this morning to the offensive line and to those two backs, “ Freeze said. ”Just challenged the offensive line and those two backs and boy, did they answer in a big way. Without us being able to run the ball today like we did, it would have been tough sledding, for sure.”
Instead, it’s tough sledding for the Orange, headed for the program’s 14th losing season since 2001 and just two years removed from a 10-3 mark and national ranking that had the look of a renaissance for the program. Coach Dino Babers’ team is decimated by injuries to more than 13 starters or players who were tabbed as key contributors, including starting quarterback Tommy DeVito and All-American safety Andre Cisco. And next on the horizon: a Saturday date at Clemson.
“Hey, we’ve got a lot of young people playing and it’s going to have to get better,” Babers said. “The same fan base saw guys beat Virginia Tech when we weren’t supposed to. Beat Clemson when we weren’t supposed to. So I expect them (the fans) to have faith. Freshmen turn to sophomores and sophomores turn into juniors. Hopefully, somebody gets to take advantage of that.”
Willis was 16-of-20 passing for 182 yards and added 58 yards on the ground. DJ Stubbs had four receptions, including a 36-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Alex Barbir had a 20-yard field goal.
Rex Culpepper, a redshirt senior making just his second career start, was 19 of 40 for 211 yards passing and three touchdowns for Syracuse, which is off to the program’s worst start since 2008. He was sacked three times, bringing to 24 the number of times Syracuse quarterbacks have been tackled for a loss, the most in the nation. Syracuse also hurt itself with 10 penalties.
Taj Harris and Anthony Queeley had career highs with nine and five receptions, respectively, and one touchdown apiece. Tight end Aaron Hackett scored on a 12-yard pass from Culpepper.
The game was tied at 7 midway through the first quarter. The Flames scored 28 unanswered points to blow the game open.
The Orange defense has allowed 701 yards rushing in consecutive weeks with four backs going over 100 yards. On the flip side, the offense accounted for just 97 yards against Liberty.
SQUANDERING AN OPPORTUNITY
Trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, Syracuse recovered a muffed punt on the Liberty 14, but running back Sean Tucker was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 from the Flames 5-yard line, ending the opportunity with no points.
OH, THOSE THIRD DOWNS
Syracuse was 3 of 14 on third down, continuing a disturbing trend. The Orange ranked 75th out of 76 schools in third-down conversion entering the game at 21.6 percent and didn’t help itself any in that department.
Liberty: Things are looking good for the undefeated Flames, who head home with a full head of steam and a new home run threat on offense, Shedro Louis.
Syracuse: Things go from bad to worse for the Orange, who are decimated by injuries and face a huge mismatch Saturday at Clemson. Realistically speaking, Syracuse’s best chance for a win comes at home against Wake Forest in two weeks, but even that could be out of this team’s grasp in what looks like a long, bleak season.
Liberty: The Flames return home Saturday to face Southern Miss.
Syracuse: The Orange faces its most formidable task of the young season Saturday—a road matchup against top-ranked Clemson.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25