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Defensive Effort Leads Flames to Cure Bowl Victory

December 21, 2019  Orlando, Fla.  RSS
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 Postgame Comments from Coach Freeze

 Postgame Comments from Stephen Calvert

In a season that saw the offense grab most of the attention with its gaudy numbers, it was the Liberty defense that showed up in its biggest game. A stout defensive effort led Liberty to a 23-16 win over Georgia Southern, Saturday afternoon, in the 2019 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl.

With the win, the Flames cap off the most memorable year in program history with an 8-5 record. Liberty completed its FBS reclassification process in August, received its first-ever bowl game invitation on Dec. 8 and walked away from Exploria Stadium with a bowl game trophy in hand, this afternoon.

Georgia Southern came into the game ranked No. 8 in the country in rushing offense, averaging 261.5 yards per game. Liberty came into the game ranked No. 100 in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering 192.7 yards per game on the ground.

Liberty's defensive effort held Georgia Southern to 154 rushing yards, a single rushing touchdown and three field goals in the victory. On the day, the Flames outgained the Eagles in total offense (402 to 249).

Flames defensive end Jessie Lemonier was named the 2019 Cure Bowl MVP, finishing the game with eight tackles, including two sacks. Lemonier ends his two-year career with the Flames ranked third in program history with 20.5 sacks.

Fellow senior Solomon Ajayi led the team on the day with nine stops, while Benjamin Alexander and TreShaun Clark finished with eight stops.

Liberty's four-year starting quarterback Stephen Calvert finished the day completing 16-of-35 attempts for 270 yards and two touchdowns. He ends his career as the program's all-time career leader in passing yards (12,025), completions (896) and touchdowns (93).

Antonio Gandy-Golden finished his last game in a Liberty uniform with five receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. The 2020 Senior Bowl bound player completes his career as the program's all-time leader in receptions (240), receiving yards (3,814) and touchdowns (33).

Running back Frankie Hickson posted his ninth career 100-yard game, leading all rushers on the day with 120 yards on 22 carries. The senior finished the year with 1,021 yards, posting his second-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaign.

Box Score Highlights:
Final Score: 23-16
Liberty (8-5)
Georgia Southern (7-6, 5-3 Sun Belt)
Location: Exploria Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
Attendance: 18,158

Turning Point:

After limiting the Georgia Southern offense to 115 yards during the first half, including 95 yards on the ground, two third-quarter turnovers by Liberty gave the Eagles extra chances to erase a 23-7 Flames lead during the third quarter.

However, the Flames' defense buckled down and kept Georgia Southern out of the end zone. The Eagles were forced to settle for three second half field goal, allowing Liberty to secure its first-ever bowl game victory.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Quarter
• The two teams struggled to get into an offensive flow, as the first five drives resulted in 18 total plays for 31 yards of offensive. Liberty opened the game by forcing the Georgia Southern offense into three consecutive three-and-out series.
• The Flames were the first team to crack the scoreboard when Calvert completed a 57-yard touchdown strike to tight end Johnny Huntley wide open in the slot. The redshirt junior's first career touchdown at Liberty gave the Flames a 7-0 lead at 3:31.

Second Quarter
• The Eagles scored on the following drive, getting into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter. Junior Wesley Kennedy, III finished off a seven-play, 79-yard drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown to knot the game at 7-7 with 14:53 left to play before half.
• Liberty responded on its next possession, taking a 13-7 lead just 91 seconds later. Calvert completed lengthy passes to Noah Frith (30 yards) and Demario Douglas (18 yards), setting up a three-yard rushing touchdown by Joshua Mack at 13:22.
• The Flames extended their lead to 16-7 before halftime. Alex Probert connected on a 46-yard field goal with 1:02. Liberty controlled the pace of play during the first half, outgaining the Eagles 264-to-115.

Third Quarter
• Liberty scored on the opening possession of the third quarter, pushing their lead to 23-7 12:01 into the period. Calvert lofted a ball into the corner of the end zone where Gandy-Golden went up and over the top of a defender for a 14-yard touchdown reception, his 10th of the season and 33rd of his career.
• After Liberty scored 16-consecutive points, the Flames' defense continued to keep the Eagles out of the end zone, but not off the scoreboard. Georgia Southern's Tyler Bass knocked down a pair of field goals during the remaining time in the period (28 and 30 yards), trimming Liberty's lead to 23-13 heading into the final quarter.

Fourth Quarter
• The Eagles continued to attempt to chip away at the Flames advantage after getting a stop on a fourth-and-three play midway through the fourth quarter. However, Liberty's defense made one last stop, forcing Georgia Southern to settle for a 35-yard field goal with 1:48 left to play.
• Holding a 23-16 lead, the Flames were able to wind down the clock with a pair of rushing attempts from Hickson and a pass attempt from Calvert to secure the victory.

What's Next:

The Flames will begin their quest to make their second bowl appearance in a row when Liberty opens the 2020 season against Commonwealth foe Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. on Sept. 5. The Hokies, who are currently 8-4, conclude their 2019 season on Dec. 31 when they face Kentucky in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

Date: Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020
Location: Blacksburg, Va. (Lane Stadium)