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Liberty caps breakthrough 2020 with dramatic Cure Bowl win

liberty cure bowl
Liberty players celebrate after the Flames closed out a 37-34 win over Coastal Carolina in the 2020 Cure Bowl. Photo courtesy Liberty Athletics.

Liberty led 31-19 in the fourth, fumbled at the 1 in a tie game with 41 seconds left, but as would be appropriate for the Flames in 2020, it came down to special teams.

Elijah James blocked a game-ending field goal attempt in overtime, securing No. 23 Liberty’s 37-34 win over No. 9 Coastal Carolina in the 2020 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl Saturday at Camping World Stadium.

Coastal Carolina (11-1) fought all the way back from the two-score deficit when Grayson McCall connected with Greg Latushko on a 5-yard TD pass and then ran in the two-point conversion to tie it at 34-34 with 3:01 to go.

The Flames (10-1) drove the field and appeared poised to win in the final minute, needing only to down the ball inside the 5 and kick a game-winner on the final play.

But tailback Joshua Mack was swept toward the goal line by the Chanticleers’ D, and trying to stop himself at the 1, he fumbled, and Coastal recovered, and was able to run out the clock to send the game to OT.

The Liberty offense failed to get a first down on the opening possession, settling for a 44-yard Alex Barbir field goal.

Coastal Carolina went three-and-out on its series, and sent Massimo Biscardi out for a 42-yard try, which James blocked to seal it.

“We tried to give the game away a couple of different times. To know that you still found a way to win it, it was pretty good,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said.

The win caps a season in which the Flames won at Virginia Tech on a final-play field goal and lost at #24 NC State when a late Barbir field goal was blocked.

Liberty and Coastal had been scheduled to play in the regular season, but that game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the Liberty program.

“It’s just a big blessing,” said Liberty QB Malik Willis, who was named Cure Bowl MVP after totaling 357 yards of offense – 137 on the ground, and a Cure Bowl-record four touchdowns, and 220 through the air, on 19-of-29 passing and two INTs.

“We can’t do anything but thank Him,” Willis said. “A lot of teams cancelled games. We only had game canceled at the end that end up getting remade in the bowl game. You can’t do anything but just thank God and show love. I’m really happy, really excited. I was just trying to take what they would give me using my God-given abilities, moving the sticks.”

Coastal Carolina held a slight 483-475 advantage in total yards, outgaining the Flames 318-220 through the air. However, Liberty led 255-165 in rushing yards.

For the fourth time this season, Liberty had two 100-yard rushers. Willis rushed for 137 yards on 21 carries.

Mack ran the ball 14 times for 105 yards.

“I’m just thrilled to beat a top-15 team tonight and excited about the way we finished,” Freeze said. “That was our whole theme. Our program needs to be about finishing. We felt like it was our duty for our program to finish in a bowl game. We like to win them when we get there. We’ve had pretty good success in the times I’ve taken teams to bowl games. I’m glad that our kids were able to finish.”

Story by Chris Graham

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