For a third straight year, the Liberty football season ends with a win as the Flames rolled over Eastern Michigan, 56-13, on Saturday night from Mobile, Alabama in the 2021 Lending Tree Bowl.
“Not many programs can say they went to three straight bowl games in their first three years of FBS much less won them against good football teams,” said Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze. “We’ve been able to do that. Credit to our kids, our staff, our administration, and all the support that we have there on the Mountain.”
Coach Freeze had mentioned that he didn’t feel as though he had gotten the most out of his team this season with the Flames losing as a big favorite to Louisiana-Monroe and dropping the last three games of the regular season. This win will help alleviate some of the frustration from those disappointing finishes going into the off-season.
“Coming off the way we ended the season, to watch our coaches and staff and players just prepare for this game and come out and play the way we did with the passion we did and the execution to win our third straight bowl game makes me feel a lot better heading into the off-season,” Freeze stated. “It would have been a long, long off-season had we not played better tonight.”
Eastern Michigan began the game with a time-consuming and impressive opening drive, which ended in a 27-yard field goal. The drive lasted 14 plays for 66 yards and lasted more than 7 minutes. There wouldn’t be a lot more to celebrate for the Eagles though.
Malik Willis would connect with DJ Stubbs who got behind the defense for a 54-yard touchdown strike to put the Flames ahead 7-3 late in the first quarter. Just a couple of plays later, and Liberty safety Skyler Thomas made an acrobatic interception off a pass he deflected. The Washington State transfer would return the interception 27 yards for a touchdown.
After EMU scored a touchdown to bring the score within 13-10, Liberty reeled off 43 consecutive points to seize control and never look back.
Malik Willis was named the MVP of the game following his performance. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns. He rushed for another 2 touchdowns and 58 yards on 8 rushing attempts.
Lending Tree Bowl Offensive MVP TJ Green led the team with 88 rushing yards and one touchdown. Four different receivers caught a touchdown pass, highlighted by Kevin Shaa who led the team with 3 receptions for 94 yards. Demario Douglas, DJ Stubbs, and Johnny Huntley also reached the end zone.
“I don’t think they could stop us,” Freeze stated. “I thought we probably could have taken a lot of shots. I thought our receivers could run by them. We had several more shots that I thought would have been good ones if we needed them.”
The Flames finished the game with 528 total yards of offense, nearly split evenly between the ground and the air. Liberty rushed for 233 yards and threw for 295 yards while averaging 8.7 yards per play.
“We were pretty good,” said Freeze. “We probably could have scored a lot more if we would have stayed with our tempo. They didn’t like that one bit when we were going fast. We probably could have done some more things. I thought we were pretty efficient. It was definitely one of our better efforts this year.”
Liberty finishes the season at 8-5, the 13th year in program history the Flames have won eight or more wins. The Flames join Appalachian State and Marshall as the only FBS programs to accomplish that feat in each of their first three seasons as fully bowl eligible FBS members after transitioning from FCS.