2021 was a certain up and down season for the future first round pick Malik Willis and the Liberty Flames, but at the end of the day all that matters is getting the win the LendingTree Bowl. Tonight, that is exactly what the Liberty Flames did in Hugh Freeze fashion, beating the Eastern Michigan Eagles by the final 56-20.
Easter Michigan opened up with the ball and leading them down the field was senior quarterback Ben Bryant. Samson Evans got the carries at the running back position on the first drive getting to the six yard-line after a decent pick up. After a false start, the Eagles settled for a Chad Ryland field goal going up early three to 0. Later on in the first, it was Willis showing the NFL scouts his arm strength finding DJ Stubbs 54-yards making it seven to three.
It was not over from there as Eastern Michigan got the opportunity to score more than three, but the pocket broke down causing a tip and pic six by Skyler Thomas who returned it for a 27-yard touchdown making it 13 to three after a the extra point was no good at the end of one.
Start of the second quarter saw Evans and his offensive line show power one the goal line as he pushed his way in for a two-yard touchdown run cutting it to a three point lead. After that touchdown, Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton and the team showed confidence where they can get the ball back and get a possible upset against the future first round NFL pick and a former SEC head coach in Freeze.
However, plays change fast with Liberty scoring three unanswered touchdowns before halftime with a 34-yard touchdown run by T.J. green, and two Willis touchdowns, to Johnny Huntley 20-yards out and Willis taking it in himself from two-yards out.
Bryant and the offense started to drive down the field before halftime, but a pass to Hassan Beydoun just came up a few yards short making it 33 to 10 going into the half. All the Flames had to do now was score one more touchdown, meanwhile the Eagles needed new composure.
Change was a must need for the third quarter. Teams before have made spectacular comebacks down by 20 to 30 points. Look at the New England Patriots down 28 to three, or back in 2006, Michigan State was down 38 to three against Northwestern and would make one of the biggest comebacks in the FBS led by Drew Stanton winning 41 to 38. A win was still not out of reach, until four minutes into the third quarter where it may have been.
Willis who got the scouts attention in the first half got their attention even more taking the ball himself for a 34-yard rushing touchdown, his second of the night 39 to 10, along with a Brayden Beck 43-yard field goal made it 42 to 10. Willis final touchdown came with 2:44 left to go in the third as he rolled to his right side finding DeMario Douglas three yards on the tight right side of the end zone extending the lead even more to it being 49 to 10.
With that being the final touchdown of Willis career, he finishes at Liberty with 4,886 yards through the air, 44 passing touchdowns, 1,764 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. Now, the junior would sit after one more drive in the fourth and awaits for the NFL combine.
With it being garbage time, Eastern Michigan decided to give Preston Hutchinson a shot. Hutchinson had a couple quarterback carries and a completion to Beydoun for a 18-yard pickup to the Liberty 25, looking to cash in for some touchdown stats. The Eagles had to settle for another Ryland field goal but made a big play on defense, picking off Freshman quarterback and the possible future replacement for Willis in Johnathan Bennett. The pick-six was returned by Jeff Hubbard 34-yards with that being the final score of 56 to 20, with Bennett ending with a 64-yard touchdown to Kevin Shaa.
With this victory, the Flames under coach Hugh Freeze have now won three bowl games in a row, starting in their inaugural 2019 FBS season in the Cure Bowl against Georgia Southern 23-16, a 37-34 overtime upset victory against Costal Carolina in the Cure Bowl and now, the 56 to 20 big time victory against Eastern Michigan in the LendingTree Bowl.
Malik Willis: 13 of 24 for 231 yards and four touchdowns, eight carries for 58 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Johnathan Bennett: one of two, 64 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
T.J. Green: eight carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Kevin Shaa: three receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
DJ Stubbs: two receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Demario Douglas: three receptions for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Johnny Huntley: one reception for 20 yards and a touchdown.
Eastern Michigan Stats
Ben Bryant: 23 of 36 for 200 yards and an interception.
Samson Evans: 13 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Chad Ryland: two for two on field goals. Both made from 43-yards out.
Liberty finishes their 2021 season with a record of eight and five and will look for another winning season in 2022. Eastern Michigan, gets their first winning season since 2018 finishing seven and sex. The Eagles look to continue that streak and end next season with a bowl win.