ORLANDO – The No. 23 Liberty Flames won their second-consecutive FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl, in thrilling fashion by blocking a 42-yard field goal in the first overtime against No. 9 Coastal Carolina …
ORLANDO – The No. 23 Liberty Flames won their second-consecutive FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl, in thrilling fashion by blocking a 42-yard field goal in the first overtime against No. 9 Coastal Carolina to secure a 37-34 victory on Saturday at Camping World Stadium, in a press release from Nate Blythe, Director of Communications for the Orlando Sports Foundation.
Liberty junior quarterback Malik Willis rushed for a bowl-record four touchdowns and 150 yards to earn Most Valuable Player accolades
“It’s just a big blessing,” Willis said about the victory. “I’m really happy, really excited. I was just trying to take what they would give me using my God-given abilities, moving the sticks.”
This was Liberty’s (10-1) second-ever bowl game victory, which includes topping Georgia Southern, 23-16, in the 2019 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. The Flames now hold an 8-7 lead in the all-time series against the Chanticleers and join Appalachian State as the only teams transitioning from FCS to FBS ever to win bowl games in their first two seasons of eligibility.
“What a year. It is one of the more memorable years that I have had in coaching,” Liberty Head Coach Hugh Freeze said. “I really can’t wait to reflect. Obviously, there were a lot of obstacles that our program had to handle along with the many others that played college football. “We had a tremendous year, and what a way to end it. Heck of a game tonight, and I’m thankful that our kids found a way to win it.”
Coastal Carolina (11-1) made its inaugural appearance in a bowl game after finishing its transition from FCS to FBS in 2017. The Chanticleers registered their first national ranking and rose up all the way up to No. 12.
For the Liberty Flames, true freshman Kendy Charles, a defensive lineman out of Orange Park High School, reflected on his transition from being an All-State defensive player for coach Tom Macpherson’s Raiders to being one of the smallest defensive linemen on the Flames’ defensive squad.
“I’m excited about this game being my first big game on the field,” said Charles. “We never had a game this big at Orange Park and it will be quite an experience.”
Charles, who had some game reps through the season in games that Liberty had control of the result, said his introduction to big time college football was a bit daunting.
“I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous,” said Charles, who is studying business at Liberty. “The coaching staff made the transition smooth.”
Charles, who dominated the line of scrimmage while at Orange Park, gave credit to both Macpherson for his preparation and the coaching staff at Liberty for getting him up to speed for college football.
“You really have to trust the process,” said Charles. “Coach Macpherson used a lot of the same terminology as the college coaches and some of the plays at Liberty were similar to back at Orange Park.”
Charles, a 6’-3”, 260 pound product going in, found out quickly that his size and power at the high school level was spread throughout the entire lineup at the college level.
“I am the smallest D-Lineman we got,” said Charles. “Most of the linemen are like 6’-4”, 300 pounds, but I’m settling in with my heart and strength. Now, I feel normal out there.”
Charles “moment” of clarity came during one-on-one drills when he had some success rushing against a Liberty behemoth.
“I figured if I could get past the biggest guy on the team, then I could play at this level,” said Charles. “That day in practice really boosted my confidence.”
Charles gave credit to teammate Javon Scruggs, a junior safety out of Virginia.
“He is always helping the young guys out,” said Charles. “I don’t think he knows that he is a good influence because he is just a great teammate all around.”
For the 2020 season, Charles got his first tackle in the third game of the season; a 28-7 win over North Alabama.
“I was nervous, but I kind of knew after we had good drives on them that I might have a chance to get in,” said Charles. “I kept thinking, whatever I do, don’t get rolled. When I made that first tackle, I thought, ‘I just made my first college tackle.’”
Charles noted that his debut tackle was not worth much fanfare, but his first tackle for loss; against Western Carolina; a 58-14 blowout in game eight, Charles got his first tackle for loss; a three yard negative play for the Flames’ defense.
“That was the play that the guys made a big deal about and my coach reminded me that that was my first TFL,” said Charles. “It was an enjoyable moment. That one brought joy to my heart. Now, I’m waiting for my first solo sack.”
One part of Charles’ game that he has strived to improve is get beyond his ability to dominate offensive linemen.
“When I saw the size of the guys, that was impressive, but everyone here is strong,” said Charles. “I had to really work on my technique and use my speed to make my moves. One thing I can pass on to high school guys heading to college is that no matter what you did in high school, it doesn’t matter. At the college, everything is bigger, faster, stronger.”
For Coastal Carolina, the game was a chance to see the type of team that two Oakleaf High School football athletes; wide receiver Terrance Anthony and linebacker Marcus Anthony, who recently signed to play at Coast Carolina next year.
In the game against Coastal Carolina, Charles was suited, but did not play.
“I want to bring my mom and dad up here; Marie and Jean and my sister to watch me when I get my first start,” said Charles. “That will be a special game.”