All it took was a blocked kick.
And a backup quarterback. And a clutch field goal. And beating an undefeated team on the road.
OK, so maybe it took a lot. Either way, Liberty football is finally playoff-bound for the first time in school history.
Since joining the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in 1988, the Flames have watched the postseason take place while they sat at home for 26 seasons. Particularly in the past decade, Liberty has been painstakingly close to making the field of 24, only to come up just short.
Since the Big South champion has received an automatic bid into the FCS Championships in 2010, the Flames have found themselves on the wrong end of a tiebreaker three out of four seasons prior to this one. The other season, a win over Stony Brook during the season’s final week would have sent the Flames to the playoffs, but they fell 41-31 on the road.
There was a stigma around the program that everybody knew about but nobody wanted to acknowledge: the Flames could not win the big one.
That stigma is now dead.
On a November day in Conway, South Carolina, those demons were exorcized when Chima Uzowihe blocked a 24-yard field goal that would have won the game for No. 1 Coastal Carolina. Liberty finally found itself on the right side of a tiebreaker, sharing the Big South title with the Chanticleers, but earning the conference’s automatic bid with the head-to-head win.
And that is how it seemed it had to be. Everything fell into place for the Coastal game to be the climax of the “Liberty has never been to the playoffs” narrative. A script writer could not have written a better lead up to the game — starting quarterback injured, a loss the week before, undefeated opponent.
Big picture, this could help Liberty’s case for an eventual move to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Since 2004, 11 schools have made the move from FCS to FBS. Only five of those 11 schools had football programs older than five years, and each one had considerable FCS playoff success. Liberty has the money and facilities to make the leap,but its lack of prestige has hurt its recent bid to join the Sun Belt. If the Flames can make some playoff noise over the next few years, it would really help their FBS aspirations.
Either way, Liberty football has broken through a wall, and it is not going back.
TICHENOR is the sports editor.