Liberty’s only loss of the season came on a blocked field goal against NC State back on Nov. 21. In the Cure Bowl against No. 12 Coastal Carolina, the Flames got that kick back by blocking a field goal of their own in overtime to outlast the previously-unbeaten Chanticleers 37-34. The special teams play ended what was easily the most entertaining game of college football’s postseason to date.
It was also arguably the strangest. After hopping out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, Liberty spent most of the game trying to keep Coastal at arm’s length. With the clock in the fourth quarter winding down, it looked like it might be able to do just that. Quarterback Malik Willis had a career-best four rushing touchdowns to go along with 137 yards on 21 carries and the Chanticleers had no answer for him. But Coastal Carolina was able to force a late fourth quarter field goal and then tie the game at 34-34 on its ensuing possession. Still, the Flames had three minutes to win the game in regulation, and the offense moved the ball down to Coastal’s 3-yard line within six plays.
That’s when things got strange. With Coastal Carolina out of timeouts, Liberty was content to let as much clock run as possible before scoring in order to hold the ball last. In that case, it would have been fine to play for the field goal — which, at that spot is an extra point — by kneeling on the ball. Instead, Willis handed the ball off to running back Joshua Mack twice. The first was a two-yard loss and the second was, inexplicably, a fumble recovered by the Chanticleers.
Liberty had two options: play for the field goal by kneeling, or try to score the touchdown and trust its defense. It did neither of those things and an uncertain Mack had the ball stripped.
Overtime ended up being just as dramatic. After kicking a field goal on its first possession, Liberty forced Coastal Carolina into a quick three-and-out to set up a field goal attempt, which was blocked to seal the win for the Flames.
Liberty finishes the year 10-1, capping off its first 10-win season as a FBS member and arguably its best season ever. Coastal Carolina drops to 11-1, and though this is a disappointing end for the Chants, it’s still part of an unforgettable season as well.
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