The field goal put a stamp on the thrilling game, where Liberty were forced to rally from a seven-point halftime deficit, and moved the Flames to a 7-0 record for the first time in program history.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of the way our kids competed and didn’t worry about the scoreboard, and just played the next play,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said during the postgame press conference. “We knew we were going to have problems stopping them. I tried to slow the game down and manage it, so that we had a chance late in the game. The plan worked pretty good.”
With eight seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied 35-35, Liberty was forced to attempt a 59-yard field goal after the Hokies’ defense stopped the Flames from converting on third down.
Liberty kicker Alex Barbir’s attempt was blocked by the Hokies and returned for what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown, but the officials ruled Tech head coach Justin Fuente had called a timeout just before the snap.
On the next play, Liberty instead decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-6 to give Barbir a better chance. The Flames did just that, picking up eight yards with five seconds remaining, setting up Barbir’s game-clinching field goal.
Freeze described the kick and the ensuing celebration on the field as “extremely special.”
“You don’t get a lot of moments like that in team sports, particularly with a school that is trying to build a program and has just been FBS for a few years,” Freeze said. “And to now have two wins over Power 5 opponents in year two is kind of euphoric really. We’re just thankful that we get to do this together with a group that loves each other.”
Despite fumbling four times and losing two of them, Liberty star quarterback Malik Willis, a transfer from Auburn, stuffed the stat sheet with his throwing and rushing. Willis accounted for 325 total yards in the game, completing 20 of 30 passes for 217-yards and three touchdowns, while running the ball 19 times for 108 yards and one touchdown.
Flames running back Joshua Mack chipped in on the ground, rushing for 90 yards on 19 carries, while wide receiver CJ Yarbrough caught five passes for 65 yards.
Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker outpaced Willis, producing 373 total yards and four total touchdowns of his own – three passing and one rushing. 156 of Hooker’s 373 scrimmage yards come on the ground.
In this week’s Associated Press top-25 rankings, Liberty jumped up three spots from No.25 to No.22, and have now beaten two Power 5 opponents, Syracuse and Virginia Tech, from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) on the road as underdogs.
This Saturday, the Flames are taking on the Western Carolina, who have not played a game yet this season, for a chance to improve to 8-0.
The following three games on the schedule look to be more challenging. The Flames first travel to North Carolina State (4-3), another Power 5 opponent, then they host University of Massachusetts (0-2) before finishing the season on the road against 15th-ranked and fellow unbeaten Coastal Carolina.
Even if the Flames end up finishing its season a perfect 11-0, it is extremely unlikely that they would be in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But, even with a loss to Coastal Carolina, Liberty could secure a spot in a new year’s six bowl game.
So far in what has been an odd college football season, the Flames’ success has been one of the more surprising storylines.
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