Nov 25, 2023; El Paso, Texas, USA; No. 22 Liberty Flames quarterback Kaidon Salter (7) tries throws the ball against the UTEP Miners defense during the first half at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 Liberty handles UTEP, finishes regular season 12-0

Quinton Cooley ran for three touchdowns as No. 25 Liberty completed an undefeated regular season by defeating UTEP 42-28 in El Paso, Texas.

The Flames (12-0, 8-0 Conference USA) will try to stay in line for the Group of 5 spot in the College Football Playoff’s upper tier when it hosts New Mexico State in Friday night’s conference championship game.

Cooley had 14 attempts for 65 yards, so he made good use of his scoring chances.

Quarterback Kaidon Salter gained 94 rushing yards on 12 carries. Running backs Aaron Bedgood (82 yards) and Billy Lucas (69 yards, TD) were also key contributors to the Flames’ 441 rushing yards. James Jointer Jr. added a TD run.

Salter was just 4-for-11 passing for 22 yards with a touchdown.

UTEP (3-9, 2-6) lost its third game in a row, managing just 50 yards on the ground.

Miners quarterback Cade McConnell was 12-for-25 for 164 yards and an interception. Backup Kevin Hurley ran and threw for touchdowns in the last 3:32.

The Flames scored on their first possession when Salter threw 6 yards to CJ Daniels for the game’s first points. Eighty seconds later, UTEP pulled even when Deion Hankins ran for an 8-yard touchdown.

It was 21-7 by the end of the first quarter with Lucas going in from 5 yards out and Cooley running 42 yards for a touchdown.

Cooley’s 1-yard run with 5:51 left in the first half extended the lead. The Flames scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, losing the ball on a fumble on the other.

Liberty had 287 rushing yards in the first half. Cooley ran in from 3 yards out for the only third-quarter touchdown.

Through three quarters, the Flames had touchdown scoring drives of 75, 75, 65, 82 and 55 yards. By then, UTEP had punted four times and thrown an interception.

UTEP closed within 35-14 with Mike Franklin running 2 yards to the end zone early in the fourth quarter.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Conway, South Carolina, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers head coach Jamey Chadwell during warmups prior to a game against the Army Black Knights at Brooks Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty coach: 19-year-old player’s death not football-related

The recent death of Tajh Boyd, a 19-year-old incoming freshman at Liberty University, was not related to football activities, coach Jamey Chadwell said at a news conference Friday.

Chadwell, entering his first season as the Flames’ head coach, did not give additional details about the circumstances of Boyd’s death, which he said the football program learned about on Aug. 5.

“It’s been a challenging time not only for our staff, our players, just our whole community trying to comprehend all the different things that have been going on and then still, from a pure football perspective, try to get the team ready for a season that’s upcoming,” Chadwell said.

Lynchburg, Va., police have told outlets through a spokesperson that the department looked into the player’s death and deemed a criminal investigation unnecessary.

Boyd was listed on Liberty’s athletics website as a 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive lineman from Chesapeake, Va., where he graduated from Oscar F. Smith High School. He signed his letter of intent to play at Liberty in December and officially joined the program in January.

“He made a huge impact on the team,” Chadwell said. “He was very quiet as far as an outwardly quietness, but when he was one-on-one with his teammates, he lit up the room. He had a very giving heart and if there was something that anybody was going through on the team, he was always there.”

Chadwell, 46, accepted the Liberty position after four seasons in the same role at Coastal Carolina. The Flames needed Chadwell to replace Hugh Freeze, who left for the Auburn job.

“There’s no playbook, no map to figure out how to deal with circumstances like this … you don’t have a lot of time to grieve,” Chadwell said.

–Field Level Media

Nov 15, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  Liberty Flames view of their logo on their shorts open a time out against  LSU Tigers during the second half at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty freshman OL Tajh Boyd dies at 19

Tajh Boyd, a freshman member of the football team at Liberty University, has died, the university confirmed.

Boyd was 19. A cause of death was not revealed.

Boyd was listed on Liberty’s athletics website as a 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive lineman from Chesapeake, Va., where he graduated from Oscar F. Smith High school. He signed his letter of intent to play at Liberty in December and officially joined the program in January.

“Tajh joined our Liberty Football family as recently as January and his impact on the program will be felt for years to come,” Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw and football coach Jamey Chadwell said in a joint statement.

“When you come to the Mountain, you immediately become a part of the Liberty University family and something truly special. We thank God for bringing Tajh into our Liberty Athletics community and we will always remember him as a Flame. Tajh will be missed dearly.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Liberty Flames defensive tackle Dre Butler (5) and defensive end Durrell Johnson (11) tackle Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) in the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Liberty won 21-19. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty, Toledo look to end on high note in Boca Raton Bowl

Liberty was sailing along with an impressive season in early November but hasn’t prevailed since and lost coach Hugh Freeze to Auburn.

The Flames (8-4) will try to recapture their magic and end the season on an impressive note when they face Toledo (8-5) on Tuesday night in the Boca Raton Bowl in Florida.

Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jason Aldridge is serving as interim coach as Liberty aims to move to 4-0 in bowl games as an FBS program.

The Flames recorded wins over Arkansas and BYU but are carrying a three-game slide into the matchup with the Rockets.

“It’s been somewhat of an emotional roller-coaster this season — some of the biggest moments in school history and then your head coach leaves, which is part of this game,” Aldridge said in a press conference on Wednesday. “So, just trying to make sure these guys enjoy this week and hopefully go get a win.”

Jamey Chadwell, most recently of Coastal Carolina, will take over the Liberty program following the bowl game.

Toledo is 3-0 all-time against the Flames with all the wins coming during Liberty’s time in the FCS ranks.

The Rockets defeated Ohio 17-7 in the Mid-American Conference title game to earn this invitation to the South Florida bowl for the second time.

The first was in 2015 when Toledo defeated Temple 32-17 in Jason Candle’s first game as coach after Matt Campbell took the Iowa State job. Candle since is 0-4 in bowl trips.

Quarterback Dequan Finn leads the Rockets’ offense and has passed for 2,127 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while adding 608 yards and eight scores on the ground.

Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell has five interceptions and earned multiple All-American honors. He rocketed his way onto the national radar when he tied the school record with four interceptions and set a program mark by returning two of them for touchdowns in a 52-32 road win over Northern Illinois on Oct. 8.

“He’s not a guy that says a lot but he’s a guy that shows competitive spirit each day at practice,” Candle said during a press conference earlier this week. “He’s very gifted as an athlete and he produced. He had four interceptions in one game. That’s going to get anybody’s attention. That’s like a quarterback throwing six or seven touchdown passes.”

Liberty also has a defender receiving All-American honors in defensive end Durrell Johnson, who leads the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss. Johnson has eight sacks and three forced fumbles.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; Conway, South Carolina, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers head coach Jamey Chadwell gives a thumbs up during a game against the Buffalo Bulls at Brooks Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Liberty to name Jamey Chadwell as next coach

Liberty is expected to name Jamey Chadwell as its new head football coach, multiple media outlets reported on Sunday morning.

Per ESPN, Chadwell has agreed to a seven-year contract that averages more than $4 million per season.

He will replace Hugh Freeze, who accepted the position of head coach at Auburn.

Chadwell, 45, has compiled a 39-22 record during the past five seasons with Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers finished this season with a 9-3 record after dropping a 45-26 decision to Troy in the Sun Belt championship game.

Chadwell previously served as the head coach at Charleston Southern, Delta State and North Greenville.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA; Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze run onto the field before their game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Auburn hires Hugh Freeze as next coach

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze has agreed to take over the same job at Auburn, according to multiple reports on Monday afternoon.

Freeze will replace Bryan Harsin, whom Auburn fired eight games into his second season as coach.

The former head coach at Arkansas State and Ole Miss has gone 34-15 in four seasons at Liberty, which enjoyed a quick rise as an FBS independent under Freeze and will join Conference USA next season.

Freeze, 53, became the coach at Liberty in 2019 and has won eight or more games in each of the past four seasons, including a 3-0 record in bowl games.

Freeze spent one season at Arkansas State, when the Red Wolves went 10-2, and five coaching Ole Miss. He was dismissed from Ole Miss prior to the 2017 campaign after it was discovered he made inappropriate calls to a female escort service from his school-issued cellphone.

Reports Saturday said that Auburn was targeting Lane Kiffin and Freeze for the vacant position. Kiffin said he intended to stay at Ole Miss, and soon after he and the Rebels had reportedly agreed to a contract extension with an average annual salary of $9 million.

Harsin compiled a 9-12 record at Auburn before his contract was bought out. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, a former star running back for the program, was named the interim coach after Harsin’s 3-5 start and the Tigers finished 5-7, likely missing out on bowl eligibility for the first time since 2012.

–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

Arkansas eyes bowl eligibility with Liberty coming to town

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze will be guarding against complacency while Arkansas coach Sam Pittman expects the “best game” all season from Freeze’s Flames when the two clash Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, Ark.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have them ready,” Pittman said of Freeze. “They’ve had a bye week after their best game all year. I expect a really close, tight game and, hopefully, we can make enough plays to win.”

Pittman’s Razorbacks (5-3) are coming off a 41-27 victory at Auburn that was the Hogs’ first win in Jordan-Hare Stadium since 2012 and first win against the Tigers since 2015.

A win for Arkansas this weekend would make them bowl-eligible for just the second time in the last six seasons.

The Flames (7-1) had an open date after posting an impressive 41-14 victory over BYU on Oct. 22. Freeze welcomed the extra time to celebrate the win, which vaulted his team into the No. 23 spot in the AP Top 25 Poll but left it short of a spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, which were released Tuesday.

Freese called the AP ranking “pretty special,” and something worth celebrating, but also noted just how fickle the polls can be during the season.

“Arkansas is going to be favored this week and they should be,” Freeze said. “They’ve got better players and probably better coaches. So you can easily get knocked out of the Top 25.”

The Flames have won their last five games since an early 37-36 loss at Wake Forest despite playing an injury-induced game of “musical chairs” at quarterback. Utah transfer Charlie Brewer broke his hand after starting the opener, and Kaidon Salter got the next two starts before sidelined by a groin injury.

Johnathan Bennett has started four of the last five games, including last week when he enjoyed by far the best performance of his career. The junior threw for a career-high 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns in completing 24 of 29 passes.

Freeze said Salter remains doubtful. Brewer returned to practice this week, though Freeze said Bennett likely will start.

“I think they’re both really fine players,” Pittman said. “Both can throw the football. Both can command the offense.”

Pittman had both bad news and good news on the injury front for the unranked Razorbacks. He confirmed that Dominique Johnson, a six-game starter at running back in 2021 who has made only four appearances this year while going through rehab, tore the ACL of his previously injured knee during practice last week and will miss the rest of the season. He rushed for 575 yards last year.

But starting corner Malik Chavis returned to practice after not making last week’s trip to Auburn while recovering from a head injury. Pittman said Chavis will compete for playing time with converted wide receiver Quincey McAdoo at corner.

“The Hogs are going to be a handful for us,” Freeze said. “When you’re playing an SEC roster with a Group of 5 school, it’s tough. It’s hard. You can’t hardly make any mistakes if you want to have any chance to be in it.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA;  Liberty Flames running back Dae Dae Hunter (0) runs with the ball past Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive lineman Kevin Pointer (91) during the first half at Truist Field. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Wake Forest stops Liberty’s 2-point play to prevail 37-36

Wake Forest’s Justice Ellison scored on a 1-yard run with 3:39 remaining to break a tie and the No. 19 Demon Deacons still needed to stop visiting Liberty’s two-point conversion play to hold on for a 37-36 victory Saturday at Winston-Salem, N.C.

Liberty gambled after scoring with 1:11 left, but the decision backfired.

Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman threw two of his three touchdown passes to Jahmal Banks.

The Demon Deacons (3-0), who were playing on homecoming, survived to set up next week’s Atlantic Coast Conference showdown with visiting Clemson.

Kaidon Salter’s 18-yard pass to Demario Douglas on fourth-and-4 allowed Liberty to have a chance for a go-ahead play.

Hartman, who was making his season’s home debut after missing the opener because of a blood clot that required medical treatment in August, went 26-for-44 for 325 yards with two interceptions.

Salter finished 19-for-34 for 192 yards with two touchdown throws and two interceptions.

Salter scored on a 43-yard keeper on Liberty’s first possession of the second half, closing the gap to 20-15. The Flames (2-1) went ahead for the first time on Dae Dae Hunter’s 43-yard touchdown run just four plays into its next possession.

Wake Forest failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from its own territory on its next possession, but Nick Brown’s 53-yard field goal attempt missed for Liberty.

The Demon Deacons pulled even on Matthew Dennis’ 46-yard field goal with 12:39 to play.

Liberty fumbled on the ensuing possession, with Ryan Smenda’s return putting Wake Forest at the Flames’ 4-yard line. Hartman’s 3-yard toss to Banks in the back of the end zone gave the Demon Deacons the lead to complete a 10-point swing in less than 2 1/2 minutes.

It was 30-30 after Salter’s 38-yard scoring pass to Douglas with 5:50 left.

Earlier, Wake Forest seemed in good shape, going up 20-5 after Hartman’s 8-yard touchdown toss to Blake Whitehart with 52 seconds to play before halftime.

Liberty countered with Brown’s 28-yard field goal on the last play of the half.

The Demon Deacons scored first on Dennis’ 33-yard field goal. Then Banks caught a 16-yard pass from Hartman to help push the lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter.

Liberty finally got on the board on Brown’s 47-yard field goal at the 10:55 mark of the second quarter. After Dennis booted a 27-yard field goal for a 13-3 advantage, Liberty blocked a Wake Forest punt and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) warm up prior to their game against the Weber State Wildcats  at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty names grad transfer Charlie Brewer starting QB

Charlie Brewer will start the 2022 season at quarterback for Liberty, coach Hugh Freeze announced Monday.

The well-traveled graduate transfer will replace Malik Willis, now in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. Brewer previously was the starter at both Baylor and Utah.

He decided to leave the Utah program last September after he was replaced during the third game of the season. Cameron Rising took over in a 33-31 loss to San Diego State in triple overtime and led the Utes to a 10-3 record and a berth in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State.

Brewer transferred to Liberty in December and has one year of eligibility remaining.

Following four seasons (2017-20) at Baylor, Brewer moved on to Utah. He completed 48 of 79 passes for 484 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, compiling a 1-2 record as the Utes’ starter.

At Baylor, he passed for 9,700 yards, 65 touchdowns and 28 picks.

Liberty opens the season on Sept. 3 at Southern Miss.

–Field Level Media

Feb 1, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; American quarterback Malik Willis of Liberty (7) throws during American practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty’s Malik Willis feels he’s best of QB draft crop

Malik Willis doesn’t lack for confidence and feels he should be the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

“I don’t make those decisions,” Willis told reporters on Wednesday morning at the NFL combine at Indianapolis.

After a pause, Willis cracked, “I hate that for me.”

Still, Willis is considered a first-round draft choice so he could indeed end up being the first one off the board.

Willis had a solid 2021 season at Liberty as he passed for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, He also rushed for 878 yards and 13 scores. It was his second season as the starter for the Flames after transferring from Auburn.

His performance and skills have put him in position to become an NFL team’s quarterback of the future — or even the present.

Willis has dissected the possibility of that occurring soon.

“Teams always are going to let you know how big your position is,” Willis said. “I mean, you’re the face of the franchise, literally. You’re the face of the city. So, you’ve got to understand everything that comes with that and making sure you’re doing all the right things and making sure you’re doing your job.”

Willis passed for three or more touchdowns on five occasions last season and also posted rushing outputs of 157 and 144 yards in a single game.

He won’t be showing off his running ability in Indianapolis when the quarterbacks hit the field on Thursday. Willis said he will throw at the combine but won’t run or participate in other drills.

One team being mentioned as a possible landing spot for Willis is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who need a replacement for the retired Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers own the 20th pick.

The other quarterbacks pegged as first-round picks are Kenny Pickett of Pitt and Matt Corral of Ole Miss. North Carolina’s Sam Howell is a possible late first-round selection.

–Field Level Media