ORLANDO, Fla. (CureBowl.com) – The No. 23 Liberty Flames won their second-consecutive FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl, in thrilling fashion by blocking a 42-yard field goal in the first overtime against No. 12 Coastal Carolina to secure a 37-34 victory on Saturday at Camping World Stadium. Liberty junior quarterback Malik Willis rushed for a bowl-record four touchdowns and 150 yards to earn Most Valuable Player accolades.
“It’s just a big blessing,” Willis said about the victory. “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.”
This was Liberty’s (10-1) second-ever bowl game victory, which includes topping Georgia Southern, 23-16, in the 2019 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. The Flames now hold an 8-7 lead in the all-time series against the Chanticleers and join Appalachian State as the only teams transitioning from FCS to FBS ever to win bowl games in their first two seasons of eligibility.
“What a year. It is one of the more memorable years that I have had in coaching,” Liberty Head Coach Hugh Freeze said. “I really can’t wait to reflect. Obviously, there were a lot of obstacles that our program had to handle along with the many others that played college football.
“We had a tremendous year, and what a way to end it. Heck of a game tonight, and I’m thankful that our kids found a way to win it.”
Coastal Carolina (11-1) made its inaugural appearance in a bowl game after finishing its transition from FCS to FBS in 2017. The Chanticleers registered their first national ranking and rose up all the way up to No. 12.
The back-and-forth contest saw the Chanticleers rally from a 31-19 deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 34-all on a five-yard reception by senior wide receiver Greg Lastushko from freshman quarterback Grayson McCall with 3:01 remaining.
With Liberty inside the five-yard line with less than 60 seconds on the clock of a tie game, junior linebacker Jeffrey Gunther forced a fumble, which was recovered by junior safety Alex Spillman to extend the game into overtime for the Chanticleers.
In the first overtime, the game-winning 44-yard field goal was struck by senior Alex Barbir. The ensuing 42-yard field goal from the Chanticleers was blocked by the Flames’ senior defensive tackle Elijah James.
“The last play of the game, all I did was put everything I had into it because we had to. It was the last play. We had to stop them,” said James. “It was my right hand (that I blocked it with). It was very satisfying.
The Chanticleers were led offensively by McCall with 318 yards and three touchdowns. A bowl-record was eclipsed by junior wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh with 11 receptions for 178 yards.
For the second-straight year, the Cure Bowl welcomed an all-female crew for the national radio network – FirstTeamRadio. Jamie Seh handled play-by-play duties, while Tenitra Bastiste provided analysis on the broadcast.
BRINGING TEAMS TOGETHER TO FIND A CURE FOR CANCER
- To date, the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl has been a platform to donate over $3.88 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.
- FFVA Mutual presented a check to Orlando Sports Foundation during the game. A check of $24,000 showcased the money raised at the FFVA Mutual Invitational on Nov. 2.
- After the completion of the third quarter, SoftWash Systems presented a check for $28,900.25 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.
MALIK MAKING MOVES
- Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was electric in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl by rushing 21 times for 150 yards and four touchdowns.
- The Atlanta, Ga., native showed patience in the pocket before tucking the ball and running on a number of occassions. His longest rush was 26 yards.
- Willis found the end zone on rushes of 10, 5, 6 and 3 yards.
- The Flames’ quarterback also went 19-of-29 for 220 yards through the air.
“Malik is a tremendous athlete. He’s had 30-plus days off now. We don’t win that game without him. We’re going to take some time off, and then let’s get ready to do it again. You certainly don’t win a lot of games if you don’t have a great trigger guy. Malik gave us that big play ability and had a solid year. We won 10 games. That’s pretty phenomenal. You just don’t do that without solid play at quarterback.”
– Liberty Head Coach Hugh Freeze
“Liberty is a really good team. We could not do anything with its quarterback. You can see why he is a five-star kid. He hurt us a bunch defensively, and we could not get him off the field.”
– Coastal Carolina Head Coach Jamey Chadwell
CALLING ON MCCALL
- Freshman quarterback Grayson McCall showed his dual-threat abilities as well.
- The Indian Trail, N.C., native tossed three touchdowns and 318 yards on 21-of-32 passing.
- McCall added 96 yards on the ground and one touchdown.
- The four total touchdowns tied the Cure Bowl record for individual touchdowns with Willis.
“He made some good plays. He made some plays there that were just amazing. He made some mistakes as well, but he kept fighting. He kept believing. I thought that he did a very good job of staying in there, taking some shots and trying to make some plays out of the pocket.“
– Head Coach Jamey Chadwell
BEND BUT DON’T BREAK
- With two high-powered offenses squaring off, both team’s relied on their defense to change momentum.
- After Liberty put up 14 points in the first quarter, an interception by Braydon Matts swung momentum to the Chanticleers, who quickly posted a field goal and touchdown.
- Both teams combined to go 8-of 22 on third downs, but found success in fourth-and-short circumstances, going 3-for-4.
- A game-high 10 tackles were compiled by Coastal Carolina junior linebacker Enock Makonzo, while the Flames’ senior linebacker Anthony Butler notched nine stops.
- With the Chanticleers driving in the third quarter, Liberty flipped field position when junior linebacker Javon Scruggs grabbed an interception and returned it 59 yards inside the 10-yard line.
“We came into this game knowing it was going to be a dog fight, and it turned out to be even more of a dog fight than we expected. That block at the end is a blessing.”
– Liberty Senior Defensive Tackle Elijah James
Orlando Sports Foundation
The Orlando Sports Foundation (OSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for breast cancer research. The OSF holds several events throughout the year including the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl, JA Edwards of America Race 2 Cure presented by FFVA Mutual, Cure Cup, Strikeout Breast Cancer and Kickoff to Cure Luncheon.
With the combined support of Central Floridians, loyal sports fans and strategic partners, the OSF is further dedicated and committed to serving the challenges of cancer awareness and elimination, invigorating the Central Florida athletic community and supporting youth organizations with standards of benevolence, integrity and moral excellence.
To learn more, visit OrlandoSportsFoundation.com.
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 35 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes four early-season college football games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events, a college softball event and two college award shows, which accounts for approximately 400 hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in more than 10 markets across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans.
ESPN: Anna Negron at 860-256-1757 or firstname.lastname@example.org; @ItsAnnaNegron