Just a few minutes after Liberty defeated Hampton this past Saturday night to move to 2-2, Head Coach Hugh Freeze had already begun looking ahead to this weekend’s matchup against New Mexico.
“Huge game for us, back at home before we hit the road for a while. It’s a big, big game,” Freeze said in his post game press conference following the Hampton game.
He echoed similar thoughts in his Monday press conference previewing the game.
“We have a great challenge, I’m glad it’s at home. Our crowds have been good, we need them to be great this Saturday night. We really need everyone to be here from the student body, to our fans, to the Flames Club. It’s going to be an exciting night, and I think you will see a real exciting football game between the two of us.”
For Liberty’s ultimate goal of making a bowl game, this weekend’s game is as close to a must win as you can have in the 5th game of the season. The Flames need four more qualifying wins to become bowl eligible and Liberty only has two more opportunities at home to move closer to that goal beginning Saturday night. (Only one win over an FCS team can count towards bowl eligibility, the 10/19 Maine game will not count towards bowl eligibility).
Yes, there are winnable games away from Williams Stadium on the schedule, namely next week’s trip to New Mexico State and a November 2nd meeting with UMass, both teams who are still winless. But winning at home is crucial.
“Make no bones about it, yes,” Freeze said about the importance of Saturday’s game. “Absolutely. You have to win at home. After it’s over, win, lose, or draw, we will move on to the next one and make it important too, but in my mind winning a game at home is important, particularly before we go on this road.”
The way Liberty’s schedule breaks down this year, four of the first five games were in Lynchburg while five of the final seven are on the road, including a four game stretch that includes trips to P5 opponents Rutgers and Virginia and former national champion BYU. Saturday’s game is the final of a three game homestand where the Flames have won the first two and are looking to win a third straight game for the first time since 2017.
“That would be perfect to close out our three game stretch at home undefeated,” senior quarterback Buckshot Calvert said. “That would be a great feeling for us, a great boost for the fans, and just something that will keep us rolling into the weeks after that.”
There is very little room for error in the 2019 schedule. If Liberty was to lose this weekend, the Flames would then have to win every game its favored in the rest of the way while also upsetting either Rutgers, Virginia, or BYU.
“We want something bigger at the end of the year,” Buckshot said. “We want to be at a bowl game. So, taking these games one at a time and finishing strong is the ultimate goal.”
That one game at a time starts against the Lobos this weekend, the same team Liberty beat in a shootout in New Mexico in 2018 thanks to a record setting performance by Antonio Gandy-Golden who hauled in 11 passes for a school-record 245 yards in the game last year.
“Our biggest game is the next game,” quarterback Landon Brown said. “We take it one day at a time, one week at a time. We want to build a winning culture here. If you do that one game at a time, one week at a time, and you take care of business each week, it’s going to breed results that you like.”
Currently riding a 2-game winning streak, the Flames are a confident bunch, and they will want to keep that going into next week’s long road trip. Since moving to the FBS, Liberty is just 1-6 away from Lynchburg.
“3-2 is our main goal,” said Calvert. “That’s what we want to be after Saturday’s game. Being 3-2 would be better for our chances of our ultimate goal of going to a bowl game.”
The Flames are currently a 7.5 point favorite over the Lobos who are 2-1 this season with wins over FCS Sam Houston State and New Mexico State while their only loss of the same came against #10 Notre Dame in South Bend.
“This game could go either way, it’s a toss-up in my mind,” Freeze said. “I don’t know that our roster is better than theirs or theirs is better than ours. I don’t know that. I’ve never played them. They’ve got a lot of older kids on their roster, but it’s winnable. It’s also losable. This is one of those toss-up games.”