Editor’s Note: In the wake of Liberty’s historic win over Montana, CSJ takes a look back at the first game after Arthur Williams Stadium was renovated in 2010. This article originally appeared on the College Sporting News website on Oct. 2, 2010.
By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
LYNCHBURG. VA. — Residents of this tradition-rich community had to wonder about 10 p.m. on Saturday night if they had been time-warped to the year of 1865.
As Francis Scott Key would say, there were rockets red glare and the bombs were bursting in air.
But instead of witnessing some War Between The States recreation, the record crowd of 19,314 at Arthur Williams Stadium and those in the immediate vicinity were just seeing and hearing a rather oddly-timed fireworks celebration before Liberty University finished off a 52-14 non-conference victory over Savannah State.
On opening night at the new Williams Stadium, the local fire marshall put one of the few crimps into Liberty’s well-devised plans by ordering that the post-game fireworks show be started by 10 p.m., or not be used at all.
So with nine minutes remaining in the game, the battle for Lynchburg began and didn’t end until the final minutes were ticking off the clock, all while the teams played on in surreal fashion.
Liberty chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. showed some chutzpah and received cheers from the sellout crowd by apologizing for the fire marshall’s actions near the end of the game.
One player who wasn’t bothered by the noise and excitement was Liberty’s junior wide receiver Chris Summers, arguably the most improved player in the Football Championship Subdivision this season.
Moments after the fireworks show began over the south side of the stadium, Summers hauled in his third touchdown pass of the night for 17 yards. He also had scoring aerials of nine and 30 yards in the first half.
“I didn’t even really notice the fireworks and all of the noise until I came off the field,” said Summers.
Summers, who had all of 48 catches and four TDs in his career before this year, now has 43 receptions this season for eight TDs and 561 yards after an eight-catch, 132-yard night.
It was a special night as Liberty entered a new era in its 38th year of football. Call it the equivalent of the Hollywood premier in the FCS.
“It is very humbling,” said Flame athletic director Jeff Barber, one of the major forces behind Liberty’s facility growth. “For us, it’s a dream come true.”
The new stadium, which cost $16 million, has expanded seating from 12,000 to 19,200 and could easily be enlarged to 31,000 within the next five years, Barber said.
The crowd that showed up for Saturday’s premier seemed to be enjoying itself long before the opening kickoff.
And Danny Broggin brought the Flame faithful to their feet on that first play with a spectacular 88-yard kickoff return for what looked to be a touchdown. But the ACC/Big South officials proved to be party poopers by throwing an extremely late flag against Brandon Apon for a personal foul.
It took just three plays for the Liberty fans to see more pyrotechnics, literal pyrotechnics, as in fireworks. Quarterback Mike Brown knifed through the Savannah State defense for 18 yards and a touchdown.
On the next drive, Brown (14-of-19, 231 yards, three TDs passing, six carries, 54 yards, one TD rushing) hit Chris Summers for nine yards as Summers tippy-toed in the back of the end zone for a score.
The Flames didn’t look back from there, putting on a show that was worthy of their new digs, scoring more than 50 points for the fourth game at Williams Stadium in a row.
“I was very excited about the crowd and about the energy,” said Liberty coach Danny Rocco. “What (the school) put on tonight was really special.”
And if these offensive fireworks are any indication of what Flame fans are to expect in this game and in the future, the pyrotechnic bill could be large. But it was a fitting start for such a classy premier.