As our top 5 series continues, we take a look at the top wins in Liberty football history. I came to a conclusion of these five games, based on a few different factors. Significance of the game, postseason game (or postseason implications), excitement of the game, and quality of opponent, are the major factors I considered when making this list. So, without further ado, here’s the ranking!
5. @ Eastern Michigan- 10/14/89 (25-24 W)
There were a few games up for debate for this final spot, but it was hard not to pick this one. The year was 1989, and the Flames had just joined The NCAA I-AA (FCS) level one year prior. Eastern Michigan competed in the highest level (I-A) of college football, so this was a prime opportunity for the Flames to prove they could one day compete at the FBS level. In a tightly contested game, the Flames took a late lead when future Liberty HOFer and 1st round NFL draft pick Eric Green, hauled in a touchdown from Flames QB Robby Justino who was making his first career start. The Flames would hold onto the lead, winning 25-24. The Hurons (now known as the Eagles), were not a bad team either. Eastern Michigan finished the year 7-3-1 and placed second in the MAC conference standings. In just their second year of FCS football, the Flames were able to defeat an FBS program. This game proved the Flames could compete with the best and one day, might be able to fulfill founder Jerry Falwell’s vision of playing at the highest level of college football. This combined with the classic finish, earns it a spot in the top five.
4. @ James Madison- 11/29/14 (26-21 W)
This game is significant to Liberty’s football program as it marks the first postseason game the Flames have participated in. After clinching the Big South’s automatic bid into the FCS Playoffs, the Flames made the short trip up to Harrisonburg to face FCS powerhouse JMU. 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 postseason game, 26-21.
3. @ Baylor- 09/2/17 (48-45 W)
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. I was not a student at the time, but had toured Liberty for the first time that summer and liked it, so naturally, I tuned in for the Flames first game against Baylor. I’m glad I did, as it was one of the best football games I’ve ever watched. The game resembled a typical Big 12 battle. High scoring, with each team trading punches and exchanging leads. This game was a coming out party for QB Bucksot Calvert and WR Antonio Gandy-Golden. Calvert broke the school record for passing yards in a single game, torching the Baylor defense. Buckshot threw for 447 yards, tossed three touchdowns, and even scrambled for an 8 yard touchdown of his own off a busted play. Antonio Gandy-Golden was on the receiving end of two of Calvert’s touchdown throws, and added 192 yards receiving. This game would be foreshadowing to Buckshot and AGG’s careers at Liberty, as they would go down as the greatest QB/WR tandem in program history. Defense was not prevalent in this game, but a Chris Turner pick-six proved to be huge, as the game’s final margin was three points. Alex Probert also came in clutch for the Flames, going 4/4 on field goal attempts. The Liberty defense would pick off Baylor’s last second Hail Mary attempt, as the Flames would pull off the historic upset 48-45. This would mark Liberty’s first win over a power five program, and proved wrong any doubts that the Flames wouldn’t be able to compete at the FBS level.
2. @ Coastal Carolina- 11/22/14 (15-14 W)
Some of you may be surprised to see this game ranked ahead of the Baylor game, but I believe there’s a solid case to be made. First, let’s look at the significance of this game. Leading up to this game, the Flames were the winners of six Big South Championships, four of which were shared titles. Despite this, the Flames had yet to make an appearance in the FCS Playoffs. This season, a win over Coastal Carolina would give Liberty the tiebreaker, thus a berth to their first postseason. To make the game even more significant, it was against the Flames arch-rivals who just happened to be undefeated, and ranked #1 in the FCS rankings. The game was low scoring, as the Flames lone touchdown came from a Darrin Peterson 72 yard catch and score. Kicker John Lunsford did the rest of the scoring for the Flames, as he converted on all of his three field goal attempts, including a 32 yarder to give Liberty the lead with 1:20 remaining. The Chanticleers would drive all the way down to the Liberty six, setting up a chip shot 24 yard field goal attempt with only three seconds remaining. With the Flames season on the line, Liberty’s Chima Uzowihe blocked Coastal’s kick, as the Flames clinched a share of their seventh Big South title, and guaranteed their first postseason appearance in program history. Despite the importance this game played for this season alone, one could argue it played an even bigger role in the football program’s future. While it’s safe to say that the Flames would have eventually made the jump to FBS, if Coastal makes that kick there’s no telling how long the process is delayed. It’s hard to make a case for Liberty to move up from the FCS without a postseason berth, and without this win, one could even speculate all the renovations and additions to the football facilities may have been delayed, or may not have happened at all. The 2014 Liberty team left a huge mark on the Flames program, as they gave Liberty its first postseason berth and victory.
1. Cure Bowl vs Georgia Southern- 12/21/19 (23-16 W)
To no one’s surprise, the Cure Bowl victory over Georgia Southern takes the top spot in our rankings. With Liberty’s win over New Mexico State in the final game of the regular season, the Flames reached the bowl eligible mark in their first full season in the FBS. Just a few days later, Liberty received an invitation to play in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Some were concerned if the Flames would be able to stop the Eagles deady 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.
In just this short list of five games, one can see the meteoric rise Liberty’s football program has taken. With wins such as these, the late Jerry Falwell Sr’s dream of Liberty football competing with the best programs in college football is coming into fruition much faster than anyone could have predicted.