We are just over 9 weeks away from the Flames 2024 season opener versus the Campbell Fighting Camels. As we near the peak of the football offseason, we decided to rank the top ten wins in Liberty Football program history.

As Flames fans, we have been fortunate enough to experience a lot of these wins recently, with all of these wins on our list (except one) occurring within the last decade. Many factors were considered in the ranking of these games, including the significance of the game, the significance of the opponent, the quality of the opponent, the location of the game, future implications, as well as other components.

This is a fluid list and is up to each fan’s interpretation. All that being said, without further ado, here are the top ten wins in Liberty Football history!

  1. Vs BYU (2022)

It will be tough for the Flames to have another win with more aura than this one. Most Liberty fans are familiar with Dr. Jerry Falwell’s “vision” of becoming the Christian school equivalent of BYU and Notre Dame and hosting the Cougars at home was a monumental step in fulfilling that vision. Due to this, the game was billed as the biggest home game in program history. With a sold out Williams Stadium watching, it is safe to say the game lived up to it’s billing.

The Flames fell behind early, going down two scores at the end of the first quarter. Despite trailing 14-3, it was all Flames after that, as Liberty scored 38 unanswered points to come away with a dominant 41-14 win. This was the Dae Dae Hunter legacy game, as the Flames running back torched the Cougar defense for 213 yards and a score. QB Johnathan Bennett also had an exceptional performance, throwing for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns, helping the Flames outgain the Cougars by nearly 300 total yards. “The Liberty Flames have put College Football on notice.” The ESPNU announcers exclaimed, as the final whistle blew, and the Flames and the Williams Stadium-record crowd started to celebrate as the student section stormed onto the field to culminate the best win in program history.

  1. Vs New Mexico State (2023 CUSA Championship)

This is the latest win in Liberty Football history, and you could easily make the argument for it being the most important. The Flames had just concluded their first regular season in an FBS conference, going an unblemished 12-0 in their first year as a member of Conference USA. This earned the Flames the regular season title and the opportunity to host the championship game in the confines of Williams Stadium. Facing the Flames was New Mexico State for the third time in the past year. The Aggies were the second placed team in the conference, won 10 games, and their only conference loss came to Flames in early September. As the Aggies looked to avenge their loss to the Flames earlier that year the Flames looked to avoid ending a second consecutive season losing at home to New Mexico State, as had happened the season prior.

The Aggies and Flames exchanged blows in a high-scoring affair, ending the first half and the third quarter tied. The Flames would score 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, however, and would not look back. The final Flames touchdown came on an incredible 35-yard touchdown run from Kaidon Salter, a play that will forever live in Liberty Football aura. A Brandon Bishop interception on New Mexico State’s final drive sealed it, as the Flames won the Conference USA Championship, 49-35.

This game was program-altering for the Flames. With the win, Liberty not only secured their first-ever FBS conference championship but also became the very first Virginia FBS school to win 13 games in a season. Most importantly, this championship win allowed the Flames to earn a bid to the Fiesta Bowl, Liberty’s first New Year’s Six appearance, which will forever be a huge milestone for the university.

  1. VS Coastal Carolina (2020 Cure Bowl)

The 2020 season was a special one for the Flames, and you could not have asked for a better conclusion than the 2020 Cure Bowl. Liberty was 9-1 and ranked coming into this game, having defeated multiple ACC schools with their only loss coming by a mere point on the road to NC State. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, coached by Jamey Chadwell, were a perfect 11-0 and ranked 12th in the CFP poll and as high as 9th in the AP Top 25.

The two schools were originally supposed to meet in the regular season, a game that was going to be covered by “College Gameday,” until the Flames suffered a covid outbreak that caused the game to be canceled. Also adding to the storyline was a rivalry renewed, as the Flames and Chanticleers met for the first time since the FCS Big South days when the two were bitter rivals and competing for the Big South crown on an annual basis. Due to these big storylines and it being a top 25 G5 matchup, this bowl game was billed as one of the top non-New Year’s Six bowls of the entire postseason and it did not disappoint.

Led by Malik Willis, the Flames took an early 14-0 lead thanks to two rushing touchdowns by the standout QB. Coastal would respond with a few scores of their own in the second quarter as the Flames took a 17-13 lead into the break. Bowl game MVP Willis would rush for two more touchdowns in the second half and Alex Barbir would add on two field goals, but the Chanticleers would not go away. Coastal QB Grayson McCall hit Greg Latushko for a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining. Liberty drove right down the field and looked to kill the time and kick a last second game-winning field goal, but Flames running back Josh Mack fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line. Coastal recovered and the game went to OT. Flames fans remember well what happened in that overtime period, as after the Flames kicked a field goal, Elijah James blocked Coastal’s attempt to force another overtime, giving the Flames the 37-34 win in an absolute thriller of an ending.

This game was huge for Liberty in so many ways. It gave the Flames their second consecutive bowl win, first-ever win over an FBS Top 25 program, and secured just their second ten-win season. Not to mention taking the lead in the all-time series over Coastal, while also ending their perfect season and their FBS-best active record of twelve consecutive wins. After this win, the Flames finished the year ranked 17th in the final AP Top 25 poll, which is still the highest-ever finish in program history.

  1. AT Virginia Tech (2020)

“Liberty hasn’t played anybody,” stated ESPN’s Reese Davis on College Gameday, hours before the Flames faced the Hokies. Liberty was 6-0 coming into this game and had cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time ever. Facing the Hendon Hooker-led Hokies gave Liberty a chance to prove they were for real.

Despite the Top 25 ranking, the Flames were still underdogs in the game and not many analysts gave them much of a chance to win. Liberty took an early 14-3 lead, but a costly fumble resulted in the Hokies scoring and taking a 20-14 lead into halftime. The Flames held the Hokies scoreless in the third quarter and struck twice before Virginia Tech responded in the 4th to tie the game on a Tre Turner touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Behind the heroics of Malik Willis, Liberty marched down the field to give Alex Barbir a prayer at a 56-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining.

To Flames fans’ dismay, Virginia Tech blocked the field goal attempt and returned it for what appeared to be a game-winning score. However, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente made an infamous timeout call before the kick, in an attempt to ice the Liberty kicker. With new life, Hugh Freeze sent the offense back on the field and Willis hit CJ Yarbrough on a seven-yard strike where he stepped out of bounds with five seconds remaining. This set up a much more manageable 51-yard attempt for Barbir, who drilled the game-winning field goal, as the Flames shocked the Hokies in Blacksburg, 38-35.

This win marked Liberty’s first-ever win over the Hokies and their second consecutive win over an ACC opponent that season.

  1. AT Baylor (2017)

If you are looking for a monumental game in Flames football history that put the Liberty brand on a national scale, look no further than this game. The Flames had just announced in the offseason leading up to this game that the NCAA had approved their waiver to join the FBS ranks as an Independent. This marked 2017 as the final year that the Flames would compete as an FCS school. Liberty had received much criticism for this decision, as they were deemed “not ready” to compete in the highest level of college football.

Despite being criticized for their move, Liberty proved doubters wrong with a thrilling 48-45 victory. QB Buckshot Calvert and WR Antonio Gandy-Golden had standout performances, with Calvert setting a school record for passing yards (447). Key contributions included a Chris Turner pick-six and kicker Alex Probert going a perfect 4-4 on field goal attempts. This win, Liberty’s first over a Power Five program, showcased their readiness to compete at the highest level of college football.

  1. AT Arkansas (2022)

It is crazy that we’ve experienced five wins as a program that could top Liberty’s only win over an SEC opponent, but you could easily make the argument that this is the most talented team that a Flames team has ever beaten.

Coming into the game, the Flames were riding six-game win streak, hoping to upset the Razorbacks on their homecoming weekend. Similar to the Virginia Tech upset in 2020, despite being ranked 25th and their opponent being unranked, the Flames were underdogs. From the first play of the game, Liberty’s defensive line proved that it was up to the challenge of going up against an SEC-level offense. The Flames’ defensive front frequently put pressure on QB KJ Jefferson and held stud RB Rocket Sanders in check. The Razorbacks had negative rushing yards for most of the first quarter.

Due to injuries, Liberty had gone through quite the quarterback carousel at this point in the season, but it was Johnathan Bennett who got the start versus the Razorbacks. Despite recovering from flu, Bennett proved to be up for the task, throwing for three touchdowns and 224 yards passing. DeMario Douglas also torched the Arkansas defense, hauling in seven receptions for 145 yards and a score.

Liberty stormed out to a 21-0 lead and maintained a 21-3 advantage heading into halftime. The Arkansas defense stiffened in the second, shutting the Flames out, but the Liberty defense would prevail, stopping Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson a yard short on his game-tying two-point conversion attempt with just over a minute remaining. Liberty would kneel the ball and watched the clock hit zero to secure their first-ever win over an SEC opponent.

  1. VS Georgia Southern (2019 Cure Bowl)

It’s difficult to leave off your first-ever bowl win in a list of your team’s best wins. Liberty was in year one of the Hugh Freeze era and their first season as a full-fledged FBS program. The Flames finished the 2019 season a respectable 7-5 and finished the regular season with a dominating win over New Mexico State, giving the Flames their sixth eligible win and making Liberty bowl eligible for the first time ever. The Flames accepted the university’s first-ever bid to a bowl game a week later, facing the Georgia Southern Eagles in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl.

Some were concerned (Aaron Murray), if the Flames would be able to stop the Eagles’ deadly triple-option offense. The Flames did not disappoint. The Liberty defense held Southern to a mere 249 yards of total offense, completely stifling their run attack. Cure Bowl MVP Jessie Lemonier terrorized Southern’s offense as he was able to get two sacks in the game. Johnny Huntley, Joshua Mack, and Antonio Gandy-Golden all scored touchdowns for the Flames, as Liberty defeated Georgia Southern 23-16.

In their first season as a full-fledged member of the FBS, the Flames not only qualified for a bowl game but won it.

  1. AT Coastal Carolina (2014)

This game holds significant importance for Liberty football, perhaps even more so than most FBS wins. Before this game, Liberty had won six Big South Championships but never made it to the FCS Playoffs. A win against their undefeated, top-ranked arch-rivals, Coastal Carolina, allowed the Flames to secure their first postseason berth. The game was low scoring, with Darrin Peterson’s 72-yard touchdown and John Lunsford’s three field goals being the only scoring for Liberty, including a decisive field goal with just 1:20 remaining. Liberty clinched the win when Chima Uzowihe blocked Coastal’s last-second field goal attempt (“Hand of God”), ensuring Liberty’s first postseason appearance and a share of their seventh Big South title.

This victory was pivotal not just for that season but for the program’s future. It cemented Liberty’s readiness for the FCS Playoffs and played a crucial role in their eventual move to the FBS. Without this win, Liberty’s postseason berth—and possibly subsequent football program enhancements and facility upgrades—might have been delayed. The 2014 Liberty team left a lasting legacy by securing the program’s first postseason berth and victory, marking a turning point in Flames football history.

  1. AT James Madison (2014 FCS Playoffs)

After Liberty upset undefeated and top-ranked Coastal Carolina to secure a spot in the 2014 FCS playoffs, they were matched up with the James Madison Dukes in the first round.

The Flames made the short trip up to Harrisonburg and proved that they belonged in the postseason. DJ Abnar rushed for two touchdowns and John Lunsford kicked two field goals, as the Flames left Bridgeforth Stadium victorious. A Nicky Fualaau touchdown with just over two minutes remaining proved to be the difference maker, as Liberty defeated the Dukes in their first Division I postseason game, 26-21.

  1. AT Eastern Michigan (1989)

There were multiple wins over Eastern Michigan in consideration for this spot, but it’s difficult to leave this one off when you consider the impact it had on Liberty’s program.

In 1989, the Liberty Flames, having just joined NCAA I-AA (FCS) a year prior, faced Eastern Michigan, a higher-level I-A (FBS) team. In a tightly contested match, Liberty took a late lead with a touchdown pass from QB Robby Justino (making hist first career start) to future NFL first-round pick Eric Green, securing a 25-24 victory. This significant win demonstrated Liberty’s potential to compete at the highest level of college football, fulfilling founder Jerry Falwell’s vision and earning its place among the top ten wins in Liberty Football history.

This victory was especially notable at the time, as Eastern Michigan had a strong season, finishing 7-3-1 and placing second in the MAC conference. Liberty’s ability to defeat an FBS program in just their second year of FCS competition foreshadowed their potential to compete at the highest level, setting the stage for future successes and validating their aspirations to eventually compete at the FBS level. It was also foreshadowing future matchups as well, as the Flames defeated Eastern Michigan again as an FBS counterpart in the 2021 LendingTree Bowl.

Honorable Mentions: 

VS Eastern Michigan (2021 LendingTree Bowl)

It’s tough to give the nod to a regular season FCS win over an FBS bowl win for the final spot in the top 10, but context matters. This game, was no doubt a huge win, as it gave their Flames their third bowl game win in program history. Bowl game MVP Malik Willis shined for the Flames in his final collegiate game, throwing for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns and adding another 2 touchdowns and 58 yards on the ground, in a 56-20 route of Eastern Michigan.  While an FBS bowl win will always be a huge deal, especially for a young FBS program such as Liberty, two factors leave this game just out of the top ten. Firstly, the 2021 EMU Eagles (7-6 in the MAC) finished 5th in the MAC Conference compared to the 1989 EMU Hurons that finished 2nd at 7-3-1. Even though it was an FCS win for the Flames in the 1989 season, the team they beat was better than the 2021 team. Also, while an FBS Bowl win will always carry more significance on a national scene, you could easily argue that the 1989 win meant more to the Liberty program, as it marked their first-ever win over an FBS program.

AT Syracuse (2020)

It is honestly crazy that the Flames have experienced so many great wins in the last few seasons that it knocked Liberty’s first-ever win over an ACC opponent off the list. The Flames ran all over the Orange in the Carrier Dome, outgaining Syracuse on the ground by 241 yards. Shedro Louis had a career day, rushing for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 38-21 win. While it is still a milestone win for the program, Syracuse being a mere 1-10 in 2020, knocks this win off of the Top 10 list.