Liberty had a historic setback on Saturday night against Louisiana-Monroe. The Flames, who had defeated the Warhawks, 40-7, in Lynchburg last season, entered the game this past Saturday night in Louisiana as 32.5 point favorites. The 31-28 loss was one of the biggest upsets, by point spread, in college football over the past several seasons.

“Obviously, extremely disappointed in the outcome of Saturday,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said as he began his Monday morning press conference. “It’s no other way to put it. Sickening weekend, felt sick physically, mentally, the whole deal with the way we performed Saturday night. Give a lot of credit to Monroe. We’ve got to go back and evaluate everything that we do from our signaling structure to everything. They had a great plan, give their coaches credit. Their kids out played us. They played harder than we did.”

The Flames led 14-0 at halftime despite a couple of missed opportunities. That was before UL-Monroe hit Liberty with shot after shot in the third quarter on their way to scoring 28 straight points to seize a 28-14 lead. Liberty would answer to tie the game at 28 in the fourth quarter, but the Warhawks would drill a 53-yard field goal with less than two minutes left to clinch a win that first year head coach Terry Bowden said is one of the biggest of his careers.

Coming off the success of the 2020 season where Liberty won 10 games, including wins over Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and a previously unbeaten Coastal Carolina, expectations have been higher than the Flames’ football program has ever seen. The Flames returned over 20 starters from that team, including quarterback Malik Willis who many are protecting to be a first round NFL draft pick.

The loss at Syracuse a few weeks ago was disappointing, but this loss to a team that the Flames were more than four touchdown favorites against is a little bit more difficult to swallow. Coach Freeze has frequently mentioned since the end of last season that this team and coaching staff must learn how to handle all of the increased attention and praise.

“I think you can just look at kind of the way our season has gone,” Freeze said. “I think it’s one of the tougher challenges we face as coaches, but yet that is the assignment we have as coaches. We have to, somehow, if you’re going to have the success that you want or sustain success, you certainly have to have the ability to get them to focus. To focus on the things that matter and not the things that don’t. It certainly helps when you have some in the locker room that believes the same way. I do think we’ve got a very good core that will respond in the right way to this disappointment, but there’s no question when you put the film on we’ve got to own what’s on it. There’s some things that we haven’t done much of. It’s frustrating to watch and certainly, again, it comes back to us as coaches first. Why is it that way? We’ve got to figure it out.”

Freeze, and the rest of Liberty’s coaching staff, is hopeful the team is able to bounce back from the difficult loss. That begins this week in practice. Under Freeze, the Flames have been strong when trying to get back in the win column following a loss. Liberty is 5-2 under Freeze following a loss, averaging 45.6 points scored in the five bounce-back wins, including a 36-12 win at UAB earlier this season when the Flames were a slight underdog.

“It will determine the rest of our season,” Freeze said about how his team responds to this loss. “The way we go about learning from mistakes and experiences and how we prepare after that and how we respond to negativity. How we respond to what the tape says. How we respond to all of that will determine what we do the rest of the season. This sense, if there is a sense, of entitlement because you’ve had some good years and won some good bowl games, if there’s some of that it will certainly show. That’s not the way you win football games. We will continue to preach that.”

Liberty will be back on the road once again this week for the fourth time in five weeks as the Flames travel to face North Texas. The Mean Green have lost five straight games after winning their season opener against FCS Northwestern State.

“We will try to make the most of a learning experience from Saturday night and get ready to go play,” said Freeze. “I don’t know how North Texas is not winning games. They’ve got a good plan and they’ve got really good players. It will be an interesting test for us, for sure.”

Liberty defensive coordinator Scott Symons was not pleased with the way his defense performed, particularly in the third quarter, against Louisiana-Monroe. He left nothing back in his press conference on Monday when asked about it.

“For us as coaches, we’ve got to be more disciplined as a group,” he said. “We’ve got to hold our guys to a higher standard. I expect the kids that we have in our program are going to respond in the right way because I don’t think we have quitters. I know we don’t. We have enough guys that we went to battle with over the years. I expect our guys to respond this week…I think you are defined in moments like this. Our back’s against the wall. We did not play well.”

“I can sit here and continue to second guess myself, but at some point we’re going to move forward,” Symons continued. “That starts today with our guys and how we get ready for practice moving forward for the rest of the season. It’s a one game season. We’re focusing on winning this game. Our leadership as coaches, I believe that we have the young men on our side of the ball and they’re going to follow our leadership. We can sit and wallow or we can decide to move on. That’s called being a man. When adversity hits, we’ve got to bow up. We’ve got to learn from it. We’ve got to grow from it. We can’t be ignorant about it. We’ve got to make the corrections. We’ve got to take ownership in it, and we’ve got to move forward as a group.”