Dec 20, 2022; Boca Raton, Florida, USA; Liberty Flames linebacker Mike Smith Jr. (7) tackles Toledo Rockets quarterback Dequan Finn (7) during the first quarter in the 2022 Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Toledo upends Liberty to halt bowl loss streak

Dequan Finn passed for one touchdown and rushed for another to help Toledo record a 21-19 victory over Liberty on a rainy Tuesday night in the Boca Raton Bowl in South Florida.

Finn was 16-of-24 passing for 133 yards for the Rockets (9-5), who ended a four-game bowl losing streak. Lenny Kuhl caught a touchdown pass and Jacquez Stuart rushed for 111 yards for Toledo.

Kaidon Salter completed 12 of 20 passes for 84 yards and one touchdown and added 63 rushing yards for Liberty (8-5), which lost its fourth straight game. Receiver CJ Daniels threw a touchdown pass to Bentley Hanshaw for Liberty.

Shedro Louis rushed for a score and Treon Sibley caught a touchdown reception for the Flames, who fell for the first time in four FBS bowl appearances.

Liberty star defender Durrell Johnson recorded five tackles for loss to raise his national-leading total to 27.5, including his ninth sack. Teammate Mike Smith Jr. racked up 16 tackles.

The Rockets outgained Liberty 356 to 253.

The Flames dipped into the trick play bag when Daniels received a backwards throw from Salter and threw to the wide-open Hanshaw, who caught the ball near the Rockets’ 35-yard line and finished off the 67-yard play to bring his team within two with 3:40 left in the game. The ensuing two-point pass was no good.

The Rockets covered the ensuing pooch kick and ran out the clock.

Toledo opened the second half with a 13-play, 75-yard drive to move ahead to stay. Finn capped it with a 4-yard scoring pass to Kuhl to give the Rockets a 10-7 edge with 8:45 left in the third quarter.

After a turnover, Thomas Cluckey’s 29-yard field goal made it a six-point margin with 7:09 left in the period.

The Rockets later possessed the ball for seven minutes and covered 80 yards on 16 plays. Finn finished it with a 1-yard run and then completed a two-point shovel pass to Stuart to give Toledo a 21-7 lead with 10:35 left in the contest.

The Flames moved within eight on Salter’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Sibley with 7:24 left. But holder Aidan Alves fumbled the point-after snap and Nick Brown’s off-kilter attempt wobbled wide to the right.

Liberty led 7-3 at halftime.

The Flames struck first on a 9-yard scoring run by Louis with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter.

Finn was injured late in the first quarter when he was sacked and missed Toledo’s next series. Backup Tucker Gleason engineered a 10-play, 68-yard drive in his absence that led to Cluckey’s 41-yard field goal with 10:51 remaining in the first half.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA;  Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze looks on against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons before the game at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Auburn, Hugh Freeze in talks on coaching job

Liberty’s Hugh Freeze has held talks with Auburn officials about becoming the school’s next football coach, ESPN reported on Saturday.

Per the report, the Tigers are not expected to make a formal offer until after Saturday’s game against Alabama.

Freeze and Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin reportedly were being considered for the job at Auburn, however the latter said earlier this week that he intended to stay with the Rebels. Kiffin then told ESPN on Saturday that he has agreed to an extension with Ole Miss.

Auburn is attempting to fill its coaching vacancy since firing Bryan Harsin on Oct. 31.

Freeze, 53, previously coached one season at Arkansas State (2011) and five seasons at Ole Miss (2012-16). His overall record is 83-42 (.664), including a 6-2 record in bowl games.

He was dismissed from Ole Miss prior to the 2017 campaign after it was discovered he made inappropriate calls from his school-issued cellphone.

Freeze became the coach at Liberty in 2019 and has amassed a 34-14 mark in four seasons with the school, including a 3-0 record in bowl games. The Flames enter Saturday with an 8-3 in 2022 heading into their home game Saturday against New Mexico State.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Lynchburg, Virginia, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies running back Jalen Holston (0 runs the ball  in the first half as Liberty Flames linebacker Aakil Washington (24) closes in at Williams Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Tech edges Liberty, halts seven-game skid

Virginia Tech snapped a seven-game losing streak Saturday afternoon with a 23-22 victory over host Liberty in Lynchburg, Va.

The Hokies (3-8) were led by a rushing attack that covered 176 yards and helped them chew up more than 36 minutes of clock. The ground game was powered by Jalen Holston, who ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. Keshawn King added 78 yards on 11 totes.

It’s the second straight loss for Liberty (8-3). The Flames used two quarterbacks in Johnathan Bennett and Kaidon Salter. Bennett started and completed 8-of-15 passes for 98 yards, while Salter was 12-of-18 passing for 119 yards. Neither threw a touchdown, but Bennett rushed for a 15-yard score to even the score late in the first quarter.

The game featured three lead changes. Virginia Tech scored first on a two-yard dive from Holston, then extended its lead to 17-7 in the second quarter after Holston’s second score and a field goal by John Love.

After the Love field goal, the Flames’ Shedro Louis returned the kickoff 97 yards to cut the Hokies’ lead to 17-14.

Liberty tied the game just before halftime on a 47-yard field goal by Nick Brown, then took a two-point lead after Kendy Charles sacked Hokies quarterback Grant Wells in the end zone for a safety early in the third quarter. Another Brown field goal put Liberty ahead 22-17 in the third.

Following a Salter fumble, Virginia Tech engineered a 13-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Holston’s third touchdown of the day, giving the Hokies a narrow advantage. Virginia Tech failed to convert a two-point attempt but forced Liberty into a turnover on downs and a fumble on its ensuing possessions.

Virginia Tech converted all three of its fourth downs and didn’t turn the ball over.

In remembrance of the three University of Virginia players who were killed last weekend, Liberty and Virginia Tech wore UVA colors. The Flames sported navy and the Hokies donned orange.

It remains unclear if Virginia Tech and Virginia will play next weekend for the Commonwealth Cup. Virginia canceled its game on Saturday against Coastal Carolina in the wake of last weekend’s on-campus shooting.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA;  Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Grant Wells (6) prepares to throw the ball during the second half against Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Tech faces Liberty, looks to end 7-game skid

Virginia Tech will aim to snap one of its longest losing streaks in program history when it visits Liberty on Saturday for a non-conference clash in Lynchburg, Va.

After falling 24-7 at Duke last weekend, the Hokies (2-8) have lost seven straight games — their longest skid since 1951.

The Hokies’ eight losses overall are the most they’ve had since 1992, when they were in the Big East. By record, it’s the worst year for Virginia Tech since it joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004.

“I’m not going to lie — it is frustrating,” Virginia Tech linebacker Keli Lawson said. “It is hard, but we’ve just got to fight through it. Adversity comes with this sport.”

The bright spot for the Hokies was that they didn’t commit a penalty against Duke. Otherwise, it’s been a historically awful campaign in coach Brent Pry’s first season at the helm.

“I expect us to play better. I do,” Pry said. “It’s my job to encourage this team, to be positive, and to get us better. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Virginia Tech has been led on offense this season by quarterback Grant Wells. The Marshall transfer has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,023 yards and nine touchdowns, with nine interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing touchdowns with six.

Liberty (8-2) likely had a chance to appear in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings had it not lost 36-33 at UConn last week. The Flames were 19th in last week’s AP Top 25 Poll but fell out on Sunday after the defeat.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they respond this week,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “We’re looking for somebody to give us a spark and be consistent with the game plan and even in practice be consistent.”

Dae Dae Hunter had been the lead offensive weapon for Liberty, but he missed the UConn game with a torn lateral collateral ligament. Shedro Louis and TJ Green are expected to share carries at running back on Saturday.

Louis has rushed for 390 yards this season and Green 166.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Johnathan Bennett (11) rushes in the second quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty’s key stop secures upset of Arkansas

Johnathan Bennett threw a career-high three touchdown passes and Liberty’s defense came up with a key stop late as the Flames posted their first-ever win over a Southeastern Conference opponent with a 21-19 victory over host Arkansas on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.

The victory for the Flames (8-1) wasn’t secure until Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson was ruled just short on a potentially tying 2-point conversion try with 1:11 left in the game. After a review upheld the ruling, the Flames recovered the onside kickoff.

Bennett completed 15 of 25 passes for 224 yards, 145 of it on Demario Douglas’ 7 catches. Douglas was one of three Liberty receivers who caught a touchdown pass.

The Flames were up 21-5 midway through the fourth quarter until Jefferson threw two touchdown passes to Trey Knox, with and Raheim Sanders rushing for a 2-point conversion after the first to get the Hogs to within one score at 21-13 with 7:42 left.

The Hogs (5-4) got the ball back at their 15-yard line with 3:47 left and covered the 85 yards in seven plays but couldn’t get the final 2-point conversion to tie the game.

Jefferson was 23-of-37 passing for 284 yards — 109 in the fourth quarter –with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Arkansas..

The Flames, who lost leading rusher Dae Dae Hunter to a leg injury in the first half, ran for 91 yards.

The Hogs were held to only 144 on the ground, just the second time they have failed to top the 200-yard mark this season.

Liberty took advantage of relatively short fields for their first two touchdowns.

The Flames followed a partially blocked punt with a 59-yard drive capped by Bennett’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Noah Frith and then needed to negotiate just 53 yards for their second score when Arkansas failed to convert a fourth-and-5 at Liberty’s 47-yard line. Bennett’s 20-yard strike to Douglas completed the drive.

The Flames drove 80 yards late in the second quarter following Daijahn Anthony’s interception in the end zone.

Bennett finished the drive off with an 18-yard pass to Treon Sibley.

Arkansas’ only first-half points came on Cam Little’s 50-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA;  Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze looks on against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons before the game at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty extends coach Hugh Freeze through 2030

Liberty extended football coach Hugh Freeze’s contract through the 2030 season on Friday.

Terms were not disclosed but ESPN reported Freeze, 53, will average just under $5 million per season.

The Flames are 7-1 this year and 33-12 (3-0 in bowl games) since Freeze was hired before the 2019 season.

“We are grateful for Coach Freeze’s outstanding leadership of Liberty Football and the positive influence he has on our student-athletes,” Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw said in a statement. “Liberty Football is realizing the vision that was cast for it decades ago and we are excited that Coach Freeze will lead the program into the future.”

The Flames defeated BYU 41-14 last Saturday before a Williams Stadium-record crowd of 24,012 fans in Lynchburg, Va.

An FBS independent program, Liberty has a bye this weekend before traveling to face Arkansas on Nov. 5.

Freeze previously coached one season at Arkansas State (2011) and five seasons at Ole Miss (2012-16). His overall record is 82-40 (.672), including a 6-2 record in bowl games.

–Field Level Media

Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman (10) gets ready to celebrate during the fourth quarter Friday, Dec. 31, 2021 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights faced each other in the 2021 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Wake Forest defeated Rutgers 38-10. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

No. 19 Wake Forest takes on confident Liberty

Sam Hartman is back and No. 19 Wake Forest aims for another victory on Saturday when it hosts Liberty in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Hartman, the fifth-year quarterback for the Demon Deacons (2-0), missed the season opener after having surgery to remove a blood clot. He was cleared to return to play last week and threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-25 win over Vanderbilt.

“It was great having Sam back,” Deacs’ coach Dave Clawson said. “I thought he played really well. He had command of the offense and obviously was a big factor in why we won.”

With his scores through the air against Vanderbilt, Hartman became the active career leader in touchdown passes among Power 5 quarterbacks with 76, trailing only Jarret Doege of Troy’s 79 among FBS passers.

Hartman also needs just 197 passing yards to become Wake’s all-time leader.

Yet, Liberty (2-0) doesn’t seem to fear Hartman all that much.

“Every quarterback folds under pressure,” said Liberty senior defensive tackle Dennis Osagiede. “They have that (run-pass-option) thing where they hold it. And that’s cute and all, but at the end of the day, if you put pressure in a guy’s face, he’s going to make some type of indecisive throw.”

Liberty’s coaches offered a bit more respect for Hartman.

“He’s easily the best quarterback we’ve played since I’ve worked here,” Liberty co-defensive coordinator Josh Aldridge said. “He’s got a great arm and quick release. He’s seen every look you could possibly give him, but we’re going to give him our best shot.”

Indeed, Wake Forest is scoring 44.5 points per game. Last year — when the Deacs won 11 games and the Atlantic Division in the ACC — they averaged 41 points, fourth-best in FBS.

Liberty’s offense hasn’t been as potent, but the Flames defense appears to be the best Wake has faced so far. The Flames are 10th-best nationally in passing yards allowed (125.5 per game), and second in turnovers forced (4.5 per game).

Liberty is coming off a 21-14 home win over UAB and opened the season with a quadruple-overtime road win at Southern Miss — a game in which the Flames forced five turnovers.

“This defensive line and linebacker group will be the best we’ve faced this season,” Wake offensive lineman Sean Maginn said. “Obviously they have confidence with what they’ve said this week, and they should have confidence.”

Two of Liberty’s offensive playmakers — running back T.J. Green (lower body) and wide receiver CJ Daniels (ACL) — are recovering from injuries and are expected to return to action.

Under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Flames are 28-11, have won three consecutive bowl games and are 2-6 against Power 5 opponents. Liberty is playing in its final season as an independent and will join Conference USA next season.

Although the schools are just 150 miles apart, this is the just the third meeting all-time between the Flames and the Deacs, and the first since Liberty moved up to the FBS. Wake is 2-0 in the series.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Charlie Brewer (16) looks to throw against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the first quarter at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Liberty QB Charlie Brewer (hand) out 6-8 weeks

Liberty quarterback Charlie Brewer will be sidelined up to two months with a broken hand, The Athletic reported Sunday.

Brewer will have surgery this week to insert a pin or plate into his hand, per the report. The graduate transfer sustained the injury in the Flames’ 29-27 four-overtime win at Southern Miss in Saturday’s season opener.

Brewer completed 3 of 4 passes for 18 yards and rushed three times for 13 yards before exiting the game.

It was his Liberty debut after playing four seasons (2017-20) at Baylor and part of last season at Utah. He has passed for 10,202 yards and 68 touchdowns in his collegiate career.

Kaidon Salter, Liberty’s third quarterback of the night, completed 8 of 13 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Golden Eagles. He threw the game-winning two-point conversion pass to Jerome Jackson in the fourth OT.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) escapes a tackle by Syracuse Orange linebacker Mikel Jones (3) in the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty, EMU finally meet again in LendingTree Bowl

Liberty and Eastern Michigan have the same 7-5 records, but the Flames and Eagles definitely have different bowl histories entering their matchup in the LendingTree Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

An independent program, Liberty will be making its third straight bowl appearance and will also be seeking its third consecutive bowl victory.

The Flames appeared in and won the last two Cure Bowls in Orlando, earning an overtime win against Coastal Carolina last year.

The victory last year capped off a 10-1 season for the Flames, and coach Hugh Freeze has expressed some dissatisfaction with this team’s 7-5 record heading into Saturday.

“I don’t feel like I got the most out of our team this year,” Freeze said. “I want one more shot. That burns within me, and hopefully it burns within our team and within our coaches to prepare to play a really good football team and us play very well against them on national TV.”

A television audience will likely see standout junior quarterback Malik Willis in a Liberty uniform for the last time.

Expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in this spring’s NFL draft, Willis has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,626 yards and 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He has also run for 820 yards and 11 TDs.

“It’s a monster challenge,” Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said of containing Willis. “He can run it, he can throw it, he runs their offense. He’s super, super talented. We know he’s dangerous on the ground and in the air, by design and on his own when things don’t go exactly how they planned.”

Eastern Michigan will be making its third bowl appearance in four seasons, but the Eagles haven’t enjoyed the same postseason success that Liberty has.

The Eagles have lost their last three bowl games by a combined 10 points and haven’t won a bowl game since beating San Jose State in the 1987 California Bowl.

Eastern Michigan, which finished tied for fourth in the MAC West, is also looking for its first eight-win season since 1987.

Despite not having a standout player like Willis, the Eagles’ offense is averaging 31 points a game offense.

Quarterback Ben Bryant has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 2,921 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions. Jawon Hamilton (631 yards, four TDs), Darius Boone Jr. (400 yards, six TDs) and Samson Evans (264 yards, 12 TDs) lead a balanced rushing attack.

The programs have met once before. In 1989, Liberty earned a 25-24 win at Eastern Michigan, its first over an FBS program.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze walks down the sideline during the first quarter against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Liberty locks up Hugh Freeze through 2028

Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze will earn more than $4 million per season on a contract extension through the 2028 season, ESPN reported Wednesday.

The deal would make Freeze, 52, one of the nation’s highest-paid coaches outside of the Power 5.

Freeze’s Flames are 7-4 this season heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against Army.

He is 25-10 in his third season with the independent program in Lynchburg, Va., including a 10-1 campaign in 2020.

The former Ole Miss and Arkansas State head coach guided the Flames to bowl wins in each of the program’s first two years at the FBS level.

Freeze’s name has been linked to several higher-profile coaching positions based on his success at Liberty.

He went 10-3 in his lone season at Arkansas State in 2011 and compiled a 39-25 record at Ole Miss from 2013-16.

–Field Level Media