Gardner-Webb (0-5, 0-1 Big South) drove out to midfield after Liberty (1-4, 1-0 Big South) gained its first lead of the game, but Seth Cranfill fumbled on a second down reception to give the Flames the ball back with 2:53 left in the game. It was the second turnover in as many drives for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Walt Aikens picked off a Lucas Beatty pass on the previous drive to set up a short field for Liberty at the Gardner-Webb 31, and Josh Woodrum found Brandon Apon open from five yards out for the go-ahead score. Aikens then forced the fumble after Gardner-Webb's response, allowing the Flames to run out the clock after Aldreakis Allen converted a pair of first downs on the ground with just over a minute left.
Beatty's arm pushed Gardner-Webb to its early lead. The Charlotte, N.C., sophomore completed 16-of-17 passes for 301 yards and a score in the first half, including a 54-yard strike to Carlton Heard on GWU's first offensive play of the game that stunned the Homecoming crowed of 18,000-plus in Williams Stadium.
After a Liberty field goal, Gardner-Webb drove 90 yards to go up 14-3 on a short touchdown run by Juanne Blount with 1:36 left in the first quarter. A jet sweep run by J.J. Hubbard from 10 yards out with 12:24 to play before the half extended the lead to 21-3, but the Flames would answer to cut the lead to 21-10 after a long kickoff return by D.J. Abnar set up a six-yard scoring run by Allen just 20 seconds later.
After Gardner-Webb's initial score of the third quarter, Liberty ran off 18 straight points to tie the game, 28-28, a short John Lunsford field goal with seven seconds left in the stanza. The back-breaking drive came one series earlier, when the Flames marched 99 yards in 10 plays to trim the lead to 28-25 on a 15-yard halfback pass from Allen to Justin Gunn. Pat Kelly hauled in a two-point conversion pass from Woodrum to make the score 28-25.
After the equalizer, Gardner-Webb responded with a 71-yard drive on six plays, with Blount running out of a shoe to get into the end zone for a 35-28 lead with 11:59 to play in the game. Liberty wasted little time getting the score tied, however, with Woodrum hitting a receiver screen to Ryan Ferguson on the fourth play of the ensuing drive - and Ferguson out running the defense for a 45-yard touchdown with 10:12 on the clock.
The Flames caught the break they needed on Gardner-Webb's next drive. Aikens stepped in front of a third down pass with 8:26 left on the Liberty sideline to set up the Flames' first lead of the game.
Beatty finished the day with a career-high 383 yards passing on 27-of-32 accuracy with a touchdown and an interception. Kenny Cook caught seven passes for a career-high 146 yards, including a 46-yarder to set up Gardner-Webb's third touchdown of the game. Heard hauled in seven passes for a career-high 137 yards and the opening score of the game.
Kenny Little came alive in the fourth quarter to finish with 60 yards rushing on eight carries. Blount carried 10 times for 32 yards and two scores and Hubbard had two carries for 21 yards and a touchdown.
Gardner-Webb finished with season-high totals in offensive yardage (481) and points. Tanner Burch led the defensive effort with 13 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and sack. Matt Goods had five hits, a pair of tackles for loss and a sack up front for GWU.
Liberty came alive in the second half to post 348 of its 508 total yards offensively after intermission. Woodrum finished 26-of-32 for 388 yards and three scores (one interception), hitting Kelly six times for 123 yards and a 36-yard score and finding Ferguson five times for 108 yards and a touchdown. Allen had 17 carries for 97 yards and a score, chewing up 39 of those yards on the Flames' clock-killing drive that ended the game.
Aikens had nine total tackles (seven solo) and two forced turnovers in the game to pace Liberty's defensive effort.
Gardner-Webb is off to its first 0-5 start in 22 years, dating back to the 1990 season. The Runnin' Bulldogs will return home to face NAIA 10th-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene (4-1) at 6:00 pm in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium.