The gridiron rivalry between two teams experiencing unprecedented program success since their last meeting in 2016 will be revived on Saturday, when No. 25 Liberty (9-1) travels to meet No. 14 Coastal Carolina (9-0) in a 2 p.m. season finale in Conway, S.C., broadcast on ESPNU.
Both schools will enter the contest with memories of past matchups, having played one another annually as Big South Conference adversaries from 2003 to 2016 and dominating the conference as powerhouse teams, with either Liberty or Coastal Carolina winning or tying for the conference championship nearly every year throughout that period. But Saturday will be the team’s first FBS meeting, as both programs are in their first few years of FBS competition, and this year also brought both teams their first Top 25 rankings in program history. Redshirt seniors Jimmy Faulks (cornerback) and Ralfs Rusins (defensive lineman) are the only current Liberty players left on the roster from the Flames’ last Coastal Carolina faceoff.
The reborn rivalry will receive national attention too, as ESPN’s “College Gameday” morning show has announced it will broadcast from outside Coastal Carolina’s Brooks Stadium beginning at 9 a.m. (EST).
In a press conference earlier in the week, Liberty Head Coach Hugh Freeze said that the rivalry is something mostly Flames fans and the media will enjoy discussing leading up to Saturday, but he intends to keep his players focused on their game plan.
“The fans will still yell back and forth and do what they do, and the media will write about it being a rivalry, but it’s a rivalry to me because it’s (two) Top 25 teams playing in a game that means something,” Freeze said. “This opportunity that we have to beat a top 15 team, I believe that should get your juices flowing.”
Coastal Carolina will be the highest ranked team that the Flames have ever faced and, should they win, it will mark their first FBS triumph over a ranked opponent. A Liberty victory would also match the program’s single-season record of 10 wins, set in 2008.
The 14 seasons of Big South clashes produced a balanced all-time series record of 7-7 and many memorable highlights, but the best representation of the teams’ back-and-forth relationship occurred over the 2013 and 2014 seasons. In 2013, Coastal Carolina blocked a Liberty field goal to win 55-52 in double overtime at Williams Stadium. The Flames avenged that loss in the 2014 regular-season finale against the unbeaten and FCS No. 1 Chanticleers in Conway, S.C., as the Flames’ Chima Uzowihe blocked a last-second, potentially game-winning field goal to clinch Liberty’s first-ever NCAA FCS playoff bid.
2020 marks the Flames’ second year of bowl eligibility after they became only the third FBS program to win a bowl in their first eligible season, beating Georgia Southern in the Dec. 21 Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Freeze believes that this season’s groundbreaking success will once again pave the way to a bowl appearance.
“I have no idea if we will beat Coastal or not, but if we do I think we have as a Group of Five the most impressive wins in the nation compared to the other Group of Five schedules,” Freeze said. “We will cross that bridge when we get there, but if you’re asking me if we’re worthy of a bowl, there is zero doubt I would think in anyone’s mind that that would be the case.”
Facing a ranked team on the road will be a challenge, Freeze explained, but he sees his team’s approach to road games as something that can counteract the nerves.
“There’s sometimes something about going on the road that I think unites you a little bit more, particularly in big opponent games, especially when you are not favored,” Freeze said. “If handled rightly, that draws you together a little bit more. We’ve always fared very well on the road and I think it’s because of our approach.”
Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 2 p.m., televised on ESPNU with radio coverage on LFSN Radio (The Journey 88.3 FM).
The two rivals are scheduled to meet one another more often in the coming decade, with showdowns planned for 2023, 2024, 2027, 2028, and 2029.