For the first time this season, Hugh Freeze was able to coach from the sidelines and it resulted in a huge performance and win for Liberty (1-2) over Buffalo (1-2), 35-17.
“This one means a lot to me,” Freeze said about the win after the game. “This University, this opportunity, the chance to be back doing what you love, in the fire. I’ve had a lot of first of these and they’re all on the mantle somewhere, but this one will mean a lot and have a lot of special memories to it.”
This is Freeze’s first win since November 12, 2016 when his Ole Miss squad defeated #10 Texas A&M, 29-28, in College Station, Texas. He missed all of the 2017 and 2018 seasons after he was forced to resign amidst NCAA allegations and a “pattern of inappropriate conduct” after phone calls were made from his University issued cell phone to escort services.
Throughout the 2019 season, Freeze has been hindered with back pain and a serious staph infection forcing him to miss 23 practices. He didn’t return to practice until this past week as he coached from a golf cart. In the season opener against Syracuse, Freeze made national headlines when he coached from the press box in a hospital bed. Last week at Louisiana, he again made national news when he coached from the press box in a medical chair.
“I’m happy for our kids, our coaches, our administration, our University,” he said. “That’s a good football team we beat. They held Penn State last week to 78 yards (rushing), had it not been for big plays that game would have been different. 10-win team from last year, MAC Champions, great coach. I give them credit, they know what they’re doing. Our kids got it done tonight. Don’t take anything away from them, they’re going to win a lot of football games. They’re a good team.”
The Liberty passing offense was clicking all night, beginning with the first drive of the game. After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, the Flamed marched downfield in 5 plays and 1:17 of game time, spanning 75 yards for the quick touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. Buckshot read the RPO play perfectly faking the handoff and finding tight end Michael Bollinger wide open in the middle of the field for the 19 yard touchdown reception.
“We picked our top plays in practice that we’ve been running really good for this whole season, and we stuck with those plays,” Calvert said.
Three more touchdown drives on the team’s next four possessions pushed the lead to 28-7 at halftime and the Flames did not look back. The early season struggles for the offense, which had just 14 points in the first two games, seemed like a distant memory as Calvert led the offense up and down the field seemingly at ease most of the night. He finished the game passing 23-for-30 for 325 yards and 4 touchdowns. Buckshot now stands alone in first place in school history with 13 career 300-yard passing game.
The 28 first half points is the most Liberty has scored in a single half since scoring 38 points in the first half of the Flames’ 52-17 win over Norfolk State on December 1, 2018.
“There’s just something about when you look a quarterback in the eye,” Freeze said of being able to be on the sidelines. “It’s just something about being down there. I think it means something to talk to kids, whether good things happen or bad things. It’s different for me to be down there, for sure.”
Wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden continued to dazzle, this time finding the end zone on two different occasions, his first two touchdowns of the season. The likely NFL draft pick in a few months made himself a few highlight reels to show NFL scouts as he made Buffalo defenders look silly on numerous occasions, finishing with 174 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 receptions. He has moved into second place in program history with 2,781 receiving yards passing Chris Summers.
“He’s an NFL receiver,” Freeze said of AGG. “He’s right up in there with, I think I’ve got 9 in the league right now, maybe more if you count practice squads and all that, AGG will play in the NFL. Big, strong, good hands, runs fast enough, he will get his chance. I can’t wait to see that for him.”
One week after allowing 407 rushing yards to a very good Louisiana rushing attack, the Flames kept a good Buffalo running game mostly in check. The Bulls picked up 206 rushing yards on the evening. It helped that they were trailing by multiple scores throughout the game and forced to throw the ball more than they would have wanted to.
Making his third start of his career, redshirt-freshman quarterback Matt Myers completed just 15-of-33 pass attempts for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Jessie Lemonier had one of his better games of his Liberty career. The senior defensive end finished the game with 9 tackles and 3 sacks. He was inches away from a 4th sack as Myers was able to shake out of his grasp but his knee nearly touched the ground before he was able to dive forward for a short gain.
“Jessie stood out to me on defense,” said Freeze. “Jessie plays so hard every single play.”
Lemonier tied his career-high with 9 tackles and his 3 sacks also tied a career-high. He’s had 3 sacks twice before, against Idaho State and UMass last year. His 3 sacks are just one shy of Liberty’s single-game record set by Aaron DeBerry in 2003 against Charleston Southern.
“We knew we had to limit their runs and make them step out their comfort zone,” Lemonier said following the win. “We knew there was fresh meat back there, #10 (Matt Myers).”
The Flames played like a completely different team this week compared to its first two games. Was it because Freeze was at practice all week and on the sidelines for the game?
“I think I drive the train a little bit harder, maybe,” Freeze said about being back at practice. “It’s not anybody’s fault, that’s not what they were hired to do. They weren’t hired to drive, they were hired to coach and capture the hearts and minds of their players. It’s been tough on those coaches because they never knew – ‘Is Freeze going to be here, is he not going to be here?’ I thought it was a little different.”
Liberty returns to action next Saturday with a 6 p.m. kickoff against FCS Hampton.