No. 23 Liberty (10-1) knocked off No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-1) to win the 2020 Cure Bowl, 37-34, in overtime. Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media following the win. Here’s everything he said, beginning with his opening statement:
“Man, what a year. It’s one of the more memorable years that I have had in coaching. I just really can’t wait to kind of reflect on it. Obviously, there were a lot of obstacles that our program had to handle along with many others that had to play college football. Just thankful, thankful for our administration, all of the staff of nutritionists, medical team, equipment staff, everybody that worked so many extra jobs to make this happen. Most of all, I’m just thankful for our kids and staff that I get to work with. We had a tremendous year, what a way to end it in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl again. Heck of a game tonight. Thankful that our guys found a way to win it.
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE BLOCKED FIELD GOAL?
“Elation. We tried to give the game away, it felt like, a couple different times. To know that you still found a way to win, it was pretty good. We called a timeout. That was the first time we’ve gone max block, I think Elijah got his hands on it, but there were some other guys that got some good push, Ralf and those guys up front. Elijah got his hand on it. Obviously, just thrilled to beat a top 15 team tonight. Excited about the way we finished. That was our whole theme. Our program needs to be about finishing. We felt like it was our ending for our program to finish in a bowl game and then we like to win them when we get there. We’ve had pretty good success in the times I’ve taken teams to bowl games, 5-1 now. I’m glad that our kids were able to finish.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE MACK’S FUMBLE AND THAT SEQUENCE?
“They used all their timeouts and we wanted to run one more play and go down around the 2 or 1, then I’ve got my two timeouts so we can use all of the clock. Then either decide to run it on 3rd down and try to score or run another one, call a timeout and kick a field goal. We’ve got to take care of the ball. The game is close because of their competitive spirit and their quarterback and because we turned the ball over and that was certainly a critical time to do that.”
WHAT ABOUT THE PLAY OF MALIK?
“Malik is a tremendous athlete. He’s had 30+ days off now. I think it showed a little bit in the pass game, but he certainly, we don’t win that game without him. Pleased with his first year with us. We’re going to take some time off and then let’s get ready to do it again.”
WERE YOU HAVING SOME DEJAVU WITH THE NC STATE GAME AND THE TIME MANAGEMENT ISSUES?
“I don’t think we had any time management issues. I think we played it exactly right. We used the entire clock up and win the game there at the end. We just didn’t take care of the ball there at the end. I’m not sure what issues you’re referring to. Obviously, get it to overtime and we just got to find a way to make one more play than they do in overtime. Our kids did.”
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT WHAT COASTAL WAS TRYING TO DO ON MACK’S RUN?
“I probably need to coach it a little better. He’s supposed to, we wanted to get it close enough where we still had the option on 3rd down, but he needs to just lunge and dive on the ground and not let them do that. There’s a lot of different ways you can play that, but the bottom line you got to take care of the football. I thought on the replay, my guys up top said he was across the goal line. They drug him across when the ball came out but I couldn’t see the replay.”
WHAT IS IT LIKE HAVING #7 UNDER CENTER THIS YEAR?
“It’s hard to win college football games period, and we certainly don’t win a lot of games without a good quarterback. He gave us that big play ability, had a solid year. We won 10 games. That’s pretty phenomenal, you just don’t do that without solid play at quarterback.”
IS THIS THE BEST TEAM YOU’VE EVER COACHED?
“Our Sugar Bowl team at Ole Miss was really good and played really well, but this one was probably is as rewarding. I want to take time if I can, I don’t ever comment on people’s thoughts of us publicly, but it has been a little bit troubling or irritating in our locker room as this football committee that does the rankings on Tuesday night. I just wonder really what people look at sometimes. I would ask you guys ask you’re writing and talking about our team, what team in the Group of Five played 3 Power Five’s and beat a top 15 team? Anybody answer that? Yet, when those rankings come out…Listen, Cincinnati and BYU and Coastal, what great years they’ve had. I think the world of all those teams, I’m glad to see all of them, but I don’t know of anybody play the schedule that we did. I hope it’s reflected in the way people see at the end of the season, but we’re 10-1 and we lost one game at a Power Five opponent on their field by one point. I don’t know. It’s been hard for me to understand. People talk about they want you to go schedule strong games and play opponents, and we did that. Hopefully people see it that way now with us beating an undefeated top 15 team to add to our resume.”
WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR RECRUITING?
“Anytime you are on national TV you get to expose your program to a lot of different people. It will help in recruiting. It even helps when you win a bowl game like tonight. I’m sure it was well viewed. I would think in a prime time spot on ESPN. It should help us in recruiting.”
TO CLARIFY, THE REASON YOU DIDN’T KNEEL IS YOU WANTED TO GET CLOSER TO HAVE DIFFERENT OPTIONS?
“Yeah, I think on 3rd down we were still debating because I could do whatever I wanted with the clock because I had 2 timeouts. We were just debating if we get it close enough to the 2 we could run another play and try to score a touchdown or take a chance and let them block a field goal. Is that the right thing to do? I don’t know, but Josh Mack hasn’t had a fumble all year. Yes, we had two timeouts. We were going to run the clock down. I wanted to get it to the 2 or 1, somewhere, so on 3rd down I had both options.”
WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT MALIK’S LEGS?
“That’s who he’s been all year for us. It certainly makes third down play calling a little easier to know if things do break down in the pass game he certainly can convert with his legs.”
CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE DEFENSE’S PERFORMANCE?
“I didn’t think we played particularly well on defense, but we did get stops when we needed to. We did early in the game. I really thought the turning point in the first half was we were up 14-0 and we got the exact look we want on the shot play and Malik overthrew him and the next play he throws a pick. It was kind of like the momentum shifted there a little bit. Then, our defense struggled from that point forward. Some of that has to do with Coastal’s play. Their quarterback, McCall, he’s a heck of a competitor. They got good receivers, I thought we could do good against the run game except for their quarterback scrambling. I’m sure they feel the same way about our quarterback scrambling around, but we made plays when we needed to. Certainly, there in overtime definitely rose to the occasion there.”
WOULD YOU REPEAT THIS MONTH TO FEEL HOW YOU’RE FEELING RIGHT NOW?
“Yes ma’am, yes ma’am. When you go through difficult times that strain you, it strains you physically, it strains you mentally, and you do it with a group of people together and you find your way, whether you have to dig, fight, scratch, battle to get through the other side of that. And you get through the other side of that victorious, it’s what living is all about. It’s memories that were made that will last.”
WHAT ABOUT THE PLAY OF JAVON SCRUGGS?
“He’s our leader. All year, leading, people follow him. He plays an enormous amount of snap counts. His workload is enormous. We signed some guys in recruiting that will have to help him where he’s not on the field so much. He certainly came through big for us tonight.”