While there were plenty of scheduling challenges during the 2020 bowl season, the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl benefited from the chaos. In the event’s best matchup in its six-season history, the #12 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (11-1) were upset by the Liberty Flames (10-1) in overtime, 37-34.
The Flames came out hot after the defense forced a turnover on downs in the first series. Quarterback Malik Willis then began to burn up the turf with awesome footwork and smart passing. The Auburn transfer capped off his opening pair of drives with five-yard and six-yard touchdown runs for a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
Then in the second quarter, Willis went from sizzle to fizzle. After the Coastal Carolina offense was stopped on three consecutive series, defensive back Brayden Matts snagged an interception to swing the game’s momentum.
The Chanticleer’s Grayson McCall, the Sun Belt Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, then started a hot streak of his own. McCall and company converted the turnover into three points with a 21-yard Massimo Biscardi field goal. This kick was set up by a fourth-down conversion for a first down.
It looked like Liberty would conclude the scoring for the half with a 37-yard field goal by Alex Barbir. But surprisingly with only 42 seconds on the clock, Coastal Carolina went 50 yards to enable another Biscardi kick from 33 out to make it 17-13 going into the locker room. This is impressive considering that the Chanticleers didn’t convert on a single third down up to that point.
When Liberty came out to start the second half, Willis threw an interception in the red zone to Matts. However, the Flames Javon Scruggs intercepted a McCall pass on the following drive that he returned to the Coast Carolina 10-yard line. On the next play, Willis redeemed himself with a 10-yard touchdown run.
After trading points for the rest of the third and into the fourth quarter, Jaivon Heiligh caught a 45-yard bomb that set up a one-yard McCall touchdown run that made it a five-point game, 31-26. Heiligh set two Cure Bowl records with 178 yards receiving and 13 catches.
With 5:03 left in the contest, the Chanticleers were down eight points, 34-26. McCall took his squad 72 yards on six plays to bring it within two points. He then tied the game up by diving into the endzone on the two-point conversion.
McCall’s performance was solid, passing for 21-of-32 with 318 yards for three touchdowns and one interception in addition to 15 carries for 96 ground yards and a rushing score.
The Flames had a chance to end the game in regulation when they were on the Chanitcleer three-yard line with 1:20 remaining. On first and goal, they kneeled the ball in order to chew up the clock and let Barbir kick a game-winning field goal.
However, the next play was a combination of Flames teammates preventing a score on offense and the CCU defensive players attempting to impose a touchdown to get the ball back for their squad. The result of the scrum was another takeaway delivered by the Chanticleer defense. Not only was Joshua Mack’s goalline fumble the only one in the contest – it was the only giveaway on the entire season for the running back.
Liberty scored first in overtime with the longest field goal of the night from 44 yards out by Barbir. The Flames’ defense then stopped the Chanticleers for three more downs and then Brandon Schlittler blocked the field goal attempt that prevented Coastal Carolina from realizing an undefeated season. A similar play squashed Liberty’s winning streak in a 1-point loss to the ACC’s North Carolina State earlier in the year.
Despite his two interceptions, Malik Willis was clearly the bowl’s MVP. He had 21 carries for 137 yards and four touchdowns while throwing 19-of-29 for 220 yards.
Coastal Carolina’s head coach Jamey Chadwell was still proud of the season that he and his young men achieved despite the loss. “We’ve had an unbelievable ride to be undefeated in the Sun Belt [Conference] and be the champions there. I’m assuming we’ll finish in the Top 25 here at some point. Even though tonight it wasn’t what you wanted, no doubt we’ve laid at the foundation as the best team in [Coastal Carolina’s FBS history] and now we got to go out and try and be better than that in these next few years.”