ORLANDO, Fla. (CureBowl.com) – The Liberty Flames won the 2019 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl presented by the Orlando Sports Foundation, their first bowl victory in school history, by defeating the Georgia Southern Eagles, 23-16, on Dec. 21 at Exploria Stadium. Liberty senior defensive end Jessie Lemonier was named the Most Valuable Player following the victory after helping stop the Eagles’ triple-option attack by registering eight tackles and two sacks.
“We actually love adversity,” said FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl MVP Lemonier. “When the offense gets a turnover, we are happy to get back on the field, because there’s more opportunities for us to make plays and stop them. It allows us to show how great we can be as a defense.”
This was Liberty’s (8-5) first-ever bowl game victory, making Liberty the third team ever to move up from Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBC) and win a bowl game during its first season of eligibility.
The Eagles (7-6, 5-3 Sun Belt) and Flames made their first appearance in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. The game served as first American football game at Exploria Stadium, drawing a record attendance of 18,158. History was also made in the broadcast booth as Jamie Seh, Dani Welniak and Melanie Newman became the first all-female crew to call a FBS game on a national radio network – BowlDayRadio.
“After our walk-through here yesterday, I thought that the this was a really great size stadium for a bowl game,” said Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze. “These are perfect venues to have bowl games. I kind of through it could be loud and it was at times. Both [team’s] fans showed up and supported their teams very well.”
Liberty relied on their passing offense led by senior quarterback Stephen Calvert, who totaled 270 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The Cure Bowl also recognized cancer survivor and WFTV anchor Vanessa Echols and former Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson as Cure Bowl Community Service Soldiers. They were given a medallion commemorating their community service work prior to the coin toss.
BRINGING TEAMS TOGETHER TO FIND A CURE FOR CANCER
- To date, the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl has been a platform to donate over $3.7 million towards its charity partner, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).
- Of the total donated at the game, over $1.2 million in grants have been distributed to local Orlando BCRF research Dr. Annette Khaled, who received a game ball at halftime.
- FFVA Mutual was presented a check to Orlando Sports Foundation during halftime. A check of $25,000 showcased the money raised at the FFVA Mutual Invitational on (date).
- After the completion of the third quarter, SoftWash Systems presented a check for $125,567, which showed a four-year total donation to the Orlando Sports Foundation. The Sanford, Fla., based company has a nation-wide network of more than 250 soft washing professionals.
- The Orlando Sports Foundation’s mission is to bring teams together to find a cure for cancer.
- The Liberty defense defended the triple-option attack of the Eagles and made key tackles to earn stops on third down, allowing just four third-down conversions.
- Senior linebacker Solomon Ajayi tallied eight tackles and one breakup, while a trio of Flames notched eight tackles in junior linebacker Benjamin Alexander, freshman defensive end TreShaun Clark and MVP Lemonier.
- The difference in the game came down to the second half where the Liberty defense stepped up and forced Georgia Southern to field goals of 28, 30 and 35 yards.
“We needed our defense to [get off the field on third downs],” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said. “Offensively, we knew we were going to have trouble blocking their front and backers. It was a fight for us offensively. We did not play particularly well in certain parts of the game. Then, I got really conservative because our defense was playing so well.”
– Head Coach Hugh Freeze
HIGH-POWER PASSING ATTACK
- The Liberty Flames accumulated 402 total yards, including 270 through the air by Calvert.
- Senior wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden caught a game-high five passes for 63 yards and one touchdown, while junior tight end Jordan Huntley recorded 90 yards.
- The Flames controlled the clock and held the ball for over 10 minutes during the final frame.
- Senior Frankie Hickson led the game with 120 yards on the ground on 22 carries.
- Both teams were 3-for-3 in the redzone, but the difference came down to the Flames finding the endzone on two occasions.
LOOKING AT THE EAGLES
- Junior Wesley Kennedy III, who registered 64 yards on nine carries and a 10-yard touchdown, led the Eagles offensively.
- A total of 57 yards on 22 carries were logged by junior quarterback Shai Werts.
- Eight tackles each were made by junior free safety Kendrick Duncan Jr. and sophomore linebacker Reynard Ellis.
- The pair of Java’n Singletary and Kindle Vildor notched interceptions to halt Liberty drives.