The Wolfpack forced seven turnovers – recovering three fumbles and picking off four passes – to help lift the Pack past visiting Liberty 43-21 on Saturday night in the Pack's first game of the 2011 season. Brian Slay led the way recovering two fumbles and running one back for a touchdown, while David Amerson picked off two passes late in the game.
Mike Glennon, in his first start for the Pack, finished 18-for-31 for 156 yards and one touchdown. Glennon was constantly under pressure thanks to a variety of blitzes from the Flames, which finished with four sacks and turned one sack into a fumble and a touchdown.
After struggling with the running game most of the game, the Pack exploded on the ground in the fourth quarter and finished with 161 yards on the ground and averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. Curtis Underwood finished with 114 yards and a touchdown while James Washington had 66 yards and two scores.
Neither side of the ball was sharp in the early part of the game, as the Pack opened with a 3-and-out and the defense needed a big sack on 3rd down to keep Liberty out of field goal range. The Pack put together its first good drive on its third possession, marching 64 yards in 11 plays before stalling out at around the 20-yard line. Niklas Sade hit his first career field goal attempt to put the Pack up 3-0 with four minutes left in the opening quarter.
The Pack's first big defensive play of the game was immediately overshadow by Liberty's first score. Audie Cole recovered a fumble for the Pack as the Flames were driving to give the Pack its first turnover of the 2011 season. But on the very next play, Glennon was laid out on a blitz by Liberty and coughed the ball up. Liberty's Francis Bah picked it up and rumbled 38 yards for the game's first touchdown. The touchdown put the Flames up 7-3 midway in the second quarter.
But the Flames didn't hang onto the lead for long, as TJ Graham came up big for the Pack on special teams. Liberty actually brought Graham down inside the 25-yard line but a holding penalty on the Pack gave the Flames the option to kick again or tack the penalty onto the end of the play. They chose to kick again and immediately regretted that decision, as Graham found the right sideline and outran everybody for an 82-yard touchdown that put the Pack on top 9-3 after a missed extra point.
The Pack tacked on another touchdown, its first offensive touchdown of the year, in the waning seconds of the first half. DJ Greene gave the Pack the ball with his first career interception, making a break on a ball near the sideline and giving the Pack offense good field position. Glennon hit Jay Smith and Quintin Payton on long pass plays to put the Pack inside the 5-yard line. A few plays later Washington punched it in from 1-yard out to give the Pack a 16-7 lead at the halftime.
The defense kept coming up with big plays for the Pack in the second half, scoring a touchdown on its own midway through the third quarter. Brian Slay picked up a fumble from Liberty quarterback Mike Brown and rumbled down the right sidelines 52 yards for his first career touchdown. The play was reviewed but upheld and the extra point gave the Pack a 23-7 advantage.
But the Flames answered right back and cut the game to a single score. Liberty returned the ensuing kickoff to almost the 40 yard line and Earl Wolff was injured on the play. Without its stand-out safety in the game, the stout Pack defense suddenly looked porous. The Flames marched down the field in a handful of plays before hitting a 27-yard strike through the air and converting the two-point conversion to make it a 23-15 game.
The offense responded almost immediately though, as Underwood came up with a big play for the Pack. TJ Graham started things off with another big return, getting the Pack all the way to the Liberty 33-yard line. Underwood took it from there, as he ran through a huge hole and threw off the only remaining Flames defender with a stiff arm on his way to a 33-yard touchdown run. The score put the Pack up 30-15.
The Flames tacked on two field goals back-to-back to narrow the margin to 30-21, but the Pack would put away the game late in the fourth quarter. Glennon finished up a drive that was heavy on the run with a 2-yard pass to Mario Carter to make it 36-21 with 4:20 left in the game. Amerson intercepted a pass on the ensuing possession and Washington scored one play later from 19 yards out to extend the lead to 43-21.