Liberty football’s historic regular season has officially come to an end.
The university announced Thursday that it is cancelling Saturday’s top-25 matchup against rival Coastal Carolina and pausing all team activities because of an elevated number of COVID-19 cases within the football program.
“We were really looking forward to a top-25 game down at Coastal,” head coach Hugh Freeze said during a press conference following the announcement. “I love those type of games. I love the attention it brings to our program and I think our kids would [have] flourish in that competition and have a chance to beat a top-15 team.”
“It is disappointing, but nothing can take away the joy of the accomplishments that our kids and staff have gotten done this year, in this crazy 2020,” Freeze continued. “So we will celebrate that a lot more than we will focus on being disappointed about not being able to compete this Saturday.”
Freeze said some of the players that would have been out for the game were “key contributors” and that the team only had one defensive coach at practices this week, but did not give any specific names or a total of those impacted by the outbreak.
According to ESPN, at least 11 Liberty players had tested positive or had been quarantined as part of contact-tracing procedures, including star quarterback Malik Willis.
The decision to pause team activities and cancel the game was made by the school’s medical staff after Wednesday’s tests results came in Thursday morning.
“When you look at the sheer facts after [Wednesday] night’s tests, the health of our kids and the safety of them comes first and there’s something trending in a bad direction,” Freeze said.
In his own virtual press conference, Liberty Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said: “I’m certainly disappointed for coaches, student-athletes and Flames nation who were all looking forward to this game. But, at the same time, I support the decision of our medical team, who are charged with providing care for our athletes, and that is first and foremost.”
This is the first game all season Liberty (9-1) has had to cancel due to the coronavirus and the university said it will not resume related activities until given proper clearance by the medical staff.
Despite a sour ending to the regular season, Liberty has a very good chance at being invited to play in a bowl game and must now wait to see if the potential announcement is made.
“We’re very hopeful for a bowl opportunity and certainly very deserving with a 9-1 record and a top-25 ranking and I think bowl games will start to be selected as early as next week,” McCaw said.
In its second full year as a NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program, Liberty had one of its greatest seasons in program history, which McCaw described as a “magical ride.”
The 2020 regular season for the Flames included plenty of milestones, an undefeated record at home, an eight-game winning streak and victories against two teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, beating both Syracuse and Virginia Tech on the road.
The season also featured the emergence of Willis as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Willis, who was recently named Maxwell Award watch list, was spectacular in almost every game he played in.
Willis accounted for 2,040 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 64 percent of his passes. The Auburn transfer also led the Flames in rushing with 807 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground.
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