Malik Willis came as advertised, and then some.
The Liberty quarterback has the attention of NFL scouts, and now he has it from Old Dominion.
Willis passed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for two more Saturday as the frenetic Flames handed ODU a 45-17 non-conference loss at Williams Stadium.
The Monarchs (1-2) were outgained 424-201 in total offense on an evening when they couldn’t figure out a way to solve the slippery Willis, who completed 21 of 28 passes and carried nine times for a team-high 77 yards.
With the fading silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains serving as a picturesque backdrop in the falling dusk, the two quick-moving offenses combine for zero huddles and 132 plays.
D.J. Mack completed 15 of 27 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown for the Monarchs, who trailed 28-17 at halftime.
Alex Barbir’s 31-yard field goal accounted for the final margin and removed all doubt with 3:29 left after the Flames pumped the brakes and chewed 8 1/2 minutes off the clock on a single drive.
Willis scored from a yard out to give the Flames a 42-17 lead with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Willis rolled to his right and hit Kevin Shaa with an 8-yard scoring pass to stretch Liberty’s lead to 35-17 with 11:10 to go in the third quarter. The play finished off a 10-play, 60-yard drive.
Mack finished off a frantic drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Zack Kuntz with 42 seconds left in the first half. Kuntz bulldozed his way across the goal line to cut Liberty’s lead to 28-17.
Willis hit Shaa with a 38-yard pass that Shaa wrestled out of the arms of cornerback Tre Hawkins as the two crossed the goal line. The play, which gave Liberty a 28-10 lead with 3:28 left in the second quarter, came after a Monarchs defensive stop was erased by a roughing penalty.
The Monarchs turned a second major fourth-down mistake by Liberty into points when, after ODU punter Ethan Duane was roughed to extend a drive, Elijah Davis rammed it in from 1 yard out to pull his team to within 21-10 with 6½ minutes to go in the first half.
Willis hit C.J. Daniels in stride with a 33-yard touchdown strike to give the Flames a 21-3 lead 97 seconds into the second quarter.
Nick Rice kicked a 43-yard field goal, becoming the school’s career leader in them in the process, to pull the Monarchs to within 14-3 in the closing seconds of the first quarter. It was the 50th field goal of Rice’s career, which surpassed the old mark he shared for a week with Jarod Brown.
The field goal came after Liberty’s Demario Douglas dropped a punt at the Flames 30.
Willis used his elite speed and elusiveness to give the Flames a 14-0 lead with 3:17 left in the first quarter. He narrowly avoided a sack and raced 56 yards through the middle of the defense to the ODU 18. Three plays later, he beat the Monarchs around the right edge for a 17-yard touchdown.
The Flames marched – well, race walked, really – 78 yards on 10 plays on the game’s opening possession. They took a 7-0 lead when Daniels caught a 14-yard pass from Willis, spun and juked his way across the goal line 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
With the win, Liberty took a 2-1 lead in the all-time series, which started in 2013. The teams, two of the newest FBS programs in the country, are scheduled to meet both of the next two seasons.
David Hall, email@example.com