The Liberty Flames won a postseason game just two years after their move to the FBS, defeating the Georgia Southern Eagles in the 2019 Cure Bowl at Orlando's Exploria Stadium on Saturday.
Quarterback Stephen Calvert led the way for Liberty. The senior wasn't perfect, as he had two turnovers, but he had 270 yards passing in the win.
The defense did a terrific job of stifling Georgia Southern's potent rushing attack. The Eagles had 154 yards, but they needed 46 carries to get there.
Georgia Southern put together a valiant effort after it fell behind 23-7, but the offense couldn't put the ball in the end zone. Only one of its four trips to the red zone resulted in a touchdown; kicker Tyler Bass did go 3-of-3 on field goals—none longer than 35 yards.
Notable Game Stats
- Stephen Calvert (Liberty): 16-of-35, 270 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
- Frankie Hickson (Liberty): 22 carries, 120 yards
- Johnny Huntley (Liberty): 2 receptions, 90 yards, 1 TD
- Shai Werts (Georgia Southern): 10-of-19, 95 yards, 1 INT; 22 carries, 57 yards
- Wesley Kennedy III (Georgia Southern): 9 carries, 64 yards, 1 TD
- Mark Michaud (Georgia Southern): 2 receptions, 53 yards
Big Plays, Defense Carry Liberty to First Bowl Win
The hallmark for Liberty's success in 2019 was its explosive offense, which ranked 34th in the FBS with 442.5 yards per game. That group scored at least 35 points in five of its seven regular-season wins.
It wasn't a surprise, then, to see the Flames open up the playbook Saturday. Calvert didn't have a great game by completion percentage, but he still managed two touchdown passes.
Liberty's first score of the game came on a perfect play call when the Eagles were caught off guard on a play-action fake that left Johnny Huntley wide open in the middle of the field for a 57-yard touchdown.
Georgia Southern's offense is the antithesis of Liberty's. Head coach Chad Lunsford utilizes a run-heavy scheme that has produced tremendous success in his two full seasons with the program.
The Eagles entered the Cure Bowl ranked eighth in the nation with 261.5 rushing yards per game. They certainly didn't abandon their ground attack Saturday, especially early on in keeping pace with Liberty.
After Georgia Southern tied the score at seven, the Flames settled in on both sides of the ball to take control. Calvert had consecutive completions of 18 and 30 yards on the next drive, and the defense committed a pass interference penalty for 15 yards.
Those big plays set up Joshua Mack's go-ahead touchdown run from three yards out. The Flames added a field goal at the end of the second quarter to go up 16-7 at the intermission.
Coming out for the third quarter, Hugh Freeze's offense kept its foot on the gas pedal. Antonio Gandy-Golden used his 6'4" size to beat Liberty cornerback Monquavion Brinson in one-on-one coverage for an easy touchdown catch.
The Eagles responded with a field goal soon after. Calvert was picked off three plays after that, but his defense came up with a stop on 3rd-and-8 to force a field goal on fourth down.
Neither team could get anything going against the opposing defense over the final 18 minutes of game time. Four consecutive drives ended in punts, including a run of three straight three-and-outs between both offenses until Georgia Southern went 55 yards in 13 plays late in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles had an opportunity to get the ball back with an onside kick in the final two minutes of regulation. It initially appeared like they recovered the ball, but officials called an illegal touch because it didn't travel 10 yards.
Liberty was able to run out the clock and seal the program's biggest win in its short FBS history. Freeze and his staff have this team trending in the right direction as it builds toward 2020.