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Liberty ends No. 12 Coastal Carolina's undefeated season in a wild overtime Cure Bowl finish

Nick Bromberg
·4-min read

Liberty ruined No. 12 Coastal Carolina’s undefeated season on Saturday night.

The Flames blocked a game-tying field goal attempt from Coastal Carolina’s Massimo Biscardi in overtime to beat the Chanticleers 37-34 in the Cure Bowl.

Liberty finishes the season at 10-1 while Coastal Carolina finishes the year at 11-1 after missing out on the College Football Playoff and a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl.

Liberty fumbled while trying not to score

Liberty should have won in regulation.

The Flames had the ball with 3 minutes left after Coastal tied the game at 34-34 with a touchdown. Liberty quickly moved the ball down the field and had first and goal with 1:35 to go.

Instead of trying to score a touchdown, Liberty and coach Hugh Freeze decided to go for a game-winning field goal as time expired. And instead of taking a knee, Freeze called running plays.

The first run play worked out. Coastal wanted Liberty to score and Joshua Mack simply went down at the 5. On the next play, Mack inexplicably ran toward the end zone. And thanks to a push from his linemen and the willingness of Coastal’s defenders to let him score, he barreled his way to the end zone.

And he fumbled before he got there.

Coastal recovered the ball and ran out the clock in regulation to force overtime.

Liberty had to cancel Dec. 12 game with Coastal Carolina

The two teams were scheduled for the Cure Bowl after Liberty was forced to back out of a game two weeks earlier against the Chanticleers.

Liberty was set to visit CCU on Dec. 12 but was unable to play the game because of COVID-19 cases among the team. The Flames’ inability to play the game set up BYU’s last-minute trip to Myrtle Beach in a game that became one of the best of the 2020 college football season. CCU beat the Cougars 22-17 after stopping previously undefeated BYU short of the goal line as time expired.

It looked like the goal line magic was going to strike again for Coastal Carolina after Mack’s fumble and Liberty’s field goal to start overtime. But Grayson McCall threw three consecutive incompletions with the help of a sketchy no-call of a potential pass interference penalty to set up the blocked field goal attempt.

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (7) runs upfield past Coastal Carolina linebacker Teddy Gallagher (34) during the first half of the Cure Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis had four rushing TDs against Coastal Carolina. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)

Liberty QB Malik Willis scored 4 TDs

Liberty QB Malik Willis gave Coastal fits all night. The Auburn transfer repeatedly escaped the pocket Saturday night on his way to 137 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Willis and Mack combined to rush for 242 yards as Coastal allowed Liberty to rush for over six yards a carry.

Coastal rushed for 165 yards as McCall had 96 on 15 carries. He was also 21-of-32 passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns and an interception.

The two best non-Power Five teams?

With BYU considered a Power Five team for the purposes of the College Football Playoff, it’s fair to ask if Liberty and Coastal Carolina were the two best teams outside of the Power Five conferences in 2020.

Liberty’s only loss came against North Carolina State in a 15-14 slog. The Flames beat Virginia Tech and Syracuse from the ACC and also beat Western Kentucky, a team that played in the LendingTree Bowl earlier in the day.

Coastal Carolina took down Kansas to start the season and beat Louisiana and Appalachian State in addition to that win over BYU. The Chanticleers had a rematch with Louisiana set for Dec. 19 in the Sun Belt championship game but that game wasn’t played because an entire position group at CCU would have been unable to play thanks to potential exposure to someone with COVID-19.

And while we got the most entertaining game of the bowl season so far on Saturday night when Liberty and CCU were able to make up their canceled regular-season game, we also can’t help but wonder how fun it would have been to see each team take on a team from a bigger conference. After all, the Cure Bowl had never hosted a team with more than eight wins in a season until Saturday night when these two teams entered the game with a combined 20 wins.

They both deserved a bigger stage. And a chance to play a couple of bigger teams too.

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