The Liberty offense opened up just ahead of the skies at a breezy, wet Cure Bowl. The Georgia Southern offense never bothered to open up at all.
The Eagles offense was plagued by three and outs. Liberty was able to do this by keeping the Georgia Southern rush game in check. The Flames were assignment sound, and faster than Georgia Southern could handle on the edge.
Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts spent the day being chased further and further towards the sidelines, trying to avoid Liberty’s hard hitting linebackers. In the end, Werts averaged a mere 2.6 yards a carry. That’s down from his 4.5 yards averaged this season.
Things weren’t better through the air for Werts and Georgia Southern. Werts was just 10-19 with 95 yards and an interception. On top of that, it was his first interception since 2017. Most of those 95 yards were on a 45 yard pass to Mark Michaud.
The bright spot for Georgia Southern’s offense was Wesley Kennedy III’s play. He was the only Eagle to find room to run at all. He got Georgia Southern’s only touchdown drive going, with a long run on a reverse. Then, he finished off the drive with a touchdown run.
Georgia Southern wouldn’t find the end zone again. Three second half red-zone trips netted three field goals. Head coach Chad Lunsford said, “It was the difference in the game,” of the Eagles’ inability to finish off drives.
Make no mistake, Liberty didn’t have their way moving down the field on Georgia Southern either. Quarterback Buckshot Calvert was a mere 16 for 35 with 2 TDs and 2INTs.
The Georgia Southern defensive line was disruptive. They sacked Calvert once, and forced him to scramble and dodge pressure all game. In the end, the defensive line for the Eagles is what kept them in the game, because their secondary was overmatched.
Liberty was too fast, and big at the skills positions. Credit to Georgia Southern for holding Antonio Gandy-Golden to only 5 catches, 63 yards, and 1 TD.
The Flames were able to score when they strung chunk plays together, which was mostly in the first half. Outside of a tough opening drive, Georgia Southern adjusted to the Liberty offense.
Still, in the end, Georgia Southern’s offense just isn’t designed to come from behind. They can’t score quick enough, and they don’t throw well enough. On their final drive of the game the Eagles wasted minutes because they stuck to their failing ground game too long.
Defensive End Jessie Lemonier won MVP of the Cure Bowl, on the back of his 8 tackle, and 2 sack performance. After the game he would say that it was a team effort, but no one could deny he was a ton of that dominating defensive effort.
Special teams were a bright spot for Georgia Southern and a failure for Liberty. Tyler Bass was 3-3 kicking field goals for Georgia Southern. Meanwhile, Anthony Beck punted 9 times for an average of 48.8 yards a kick. His long was 58 yards.
For the Flames they missed a long field goal, and an extra point. Meanwhile, Aidan Alves punted 6 times for 36.5 yards a kick, and that’s with a number of shanked kicks.
In the end, Liberty won because their defense was disciplined, and they had the athletes to exploit Georgia Southern’s weaknesses. With that win Liberty won their first ever bowl game, on their first ever year of bowl eligibility and second season of FBS play.
It was a special win for Liberty. Buckshot Calvert didn’t want to give up the trophy, and MVP Lemonier had to ask for it twice before Calvert gave it up for just a moment. He wanted to take the trophy home with him. Everyone wanted to take it with them, because for Liberty it wasn’t a meaningless bowl. The Cure Bowl was everything.