Orlando, Fla. —Everyone thought Coastal Carolina at the end of their season would be hoisting one of the bowl’s trophies. But it wasn’t to be, Liberty played the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Elijah James blocked Massimo Biscardi’s 42-yard field goal attempt to give No. 23 Liberty a 37-34 victory over No. 9 Coastal Carolina in Saturday night game in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl.
The loss ends Coastal Carolina’s season at 11-1 overall, while the Flames finished their season 10-1. CCU’s 11 wins are the most since 2016 and the most in the program’s four-year FBS history.
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis Cure Bowl MVP ran for 137 yards and four touchdowns and completed 19 of 29 passes for 220 yards with two picks.
Coastal Carolina had won 12 straight games.
“We couldn’t do anything with their quarterback,” Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said. “You see why he was a five-star player.”
Willis led touchdown drives of 64 and 66 yards on the Flames’ first two possessions, punching in from 7 yards for the first score and 6 yards to make it 14-0 late in the first quarter.
Braden Matts’ interception turned the game in Coastal Carolina’s way early in the second quarter. Biscardi’s 21-yard field goal got the CCU on the scoreboard, McCall hit tight end Isaiah Likely on a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-10 with 2:02 left before the break.
In his second year at the helm (10-1), head coach Hugh Freeze got his team to 10 wins, a second-consecutive Cure Bowl victory and the program’s first win over a ranked opponent.
Safety Javon Scruggs’ 59-yard interception return set up the Flames at the Coastal Carolina 10 yard line early in the second half, and Willis’ third TD made it 24-13. CCU answered immediately on McCall’s 43-yard scoring dart to Greg Latushko.
After the Flames took a 31-19 lead to begin the fourth, the Chanticleers answered with a score of their own to make it a one-possession game. That set up a six-play, 72-yard drive with five minutes left on the clock to tie the game at 34. A touchdown pass from Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall to Latushko which they converted a two-point conversion that McCall ran in. When the drive ended, there were three minutes left to play, it only took the Flames a little over a minute to move the ball to the goal line.
The Chanticleers (11-1) got a break in regulation when Liberty’s Joshua Mack fumbled inside the 1 yard line with 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Safety Alex Spillum recovered the fumble to end the long drive.
“I thought it was a touchdown but they called it a fumble,” said Liberty quarterback Malik Lewis, who set several records in the game. But the next opportunity we got, we took advantage of it.”
Grayson McCall had a big game for Coastal Carolina, completing 21 of 32 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The freshman also rushed for 96 yards on the ground.
“No question this is the best season Liberty University has ever had,” safety Javon Scruggs said.
Massimo Biscardi added a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the half after Alex Barbir kicked a 37-yarder for the Flames.
After holding Liberty to a field goal on their overtime possession, CCU threw three incomplete passes before Biscardi was called on to send the game into a second overtime. Liberty were able to get a nice push up the middle of the line and get a hand up to knock down the 42-yard game-tying attempt.
Coastal Carolina totaled 483 yards of offense compared to Liberty’s 465 total yards. However, the Flames held the advantage in time of possession at 30:49 to 29:11 and in total plays with 71 to 65.
Joshua Mack had 105 yards on the ground on 14 carries while DJ Stubbs (five catches, 68 yards) and Demario Douglas (five catches, 51 yards) each had five receptions each.
- Coastal finished the season at 11-1 overall, the most wins in the program’s FBS history.
- The Chanticleers are 0-1 all-time in FBS postseason bowls.
- With the loss, the Chants winning streak was snapped at 12 games dating back to last season.
- Coastal falls to 7-8 all-time versus Liberty on the gridiron with the loss.
- With the overtime defeat, Coastal is 6-6 all-time in overtime games in the program’s 18-year history.
- The Chanticleers were shut out in the first quarter of a game for the first time this season.
- Jaivon Heilighset the Cure Bowl record for both receptions (13) and receiving yards (178 yards).
- Heiligh’s 13 catches were a new CCU program single-season record.
- Heiligh’s 178 receiving yards was a new career-high for the junior wideout.
- With his reception in the first quarter, senior CJ Marable extended his streak to 32-straight games with at least one reception.
- The third-quarter touchdown reception for Greg Latushko was the first of the redshirt senior’s career.
- Junior linebacker Enock Makonzo finished with a career-high 10 tackles.