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Liberty football team revels in win at Virginia Tech

Liberty football team revels in win at Virginia Tech

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The Liberty University football team entered Saturday as a nationally ranked squad with a road win over an ACC foe already on its 2020 resume.

But No. 25 Liberty is in just its second season as an FBS program.

So the jubilant Flames reveled in their thrilling 38-35 upset win at Virginia Tech.

"To me, over the last 20 years … Virginia Tech is a top 25 program in the nation," Liberty second-year coach Hugh Freeze said on a postgame video conference. "Believing that, and knowing the type of players they have, for us to come to their place [and win] in Year 2 of our full FBS membership, I don't know that I can really put into words, really, how big it can be.

"It's an in-state, Power Five team; that affects recruiting. And obviously I have great respect for Coach [Justin] Fuente. … For us to do it this soon in our journey here is pretty special."

Former Penn State place-kicker Alex Barbir made a 51-yard field goal to give the Flames a 38-35 lead with one second left.

"Everyone [was] … in question of whether we actually are a good team," Barbir said. "Then we come out with a win.

"It's insane. I've been crying so much."

The Flames improved to 7-0.

"It was just so surreal, to be able to run on the field like that after a win," said linebacker Anthony Butler, a transfer from Charlotte.

It was only the teams' second meeting. Tech beat then-FCS member Liberty 36-13 in 2016.

"We can't worry about any logos being older than our logos," said Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, an Auburn transfer who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another.

"They're a really good football team. … We wanted to go out there and prove that we are just as good."

Liberty, which won at Syracuse last month, was a big underdog Saturday.

"I just know that sitting here today, there's none bigger," Freeze said of Saturday's win. "And there's none bigger for our kids and our program and our administration.

"To come play the big-boy team, … I just couldn't be prouder of the way our kids competed.

"You don't get a lot of moments like this in team sports, particularly with a school that's trying to build a program and has just been FBS for a few years. And now to have two wins over Power Five opponents in Year 2, it's kind of euphoric."

Maine transfer Joshua Mack ran for 90 yards.

"I've been thinking about playing a team like V-Tech … since I was a kid," Mack said. "To be a part of a win, that just means a lot.

"This is a measuring stick for us."

Peytton Pickett scored on a 9-yard run with 1:41 left to give the Flames a 35-28 lead.

"Instead of scoring the touchdown, we should've taken the knee," Freeze said. "I was so mad at myself."

After Tech tied the score at 35 with 52 seconds left, the Flames drove down the field and lined up for a 59-yard field-goal attempt.

Barbir's attempt was blocked by Tech, with Jermaine Waller recovering the ball and scoring on an apparent 41-yard touchdown return on the game-ending play. But Fuente had called timeout before the kick, so the touchdown was nullified.

"They were blowing [the whistle]. Our line just stopped," Freeze said. "I don't know how the white hat didn't hear it."

"They kept the play going, so I was confused," Willis said. "That was scary."

So the Flames still had the ball on fourth-and-6 with eight seconds left.

Willis teamed with C.J. Yarbrough, who was near the left sideline, on an 8-yard pass for a first down. Yarbrough stepped out of bounds at the VT 33 with five seconds left to set the stage for the winning field goal.

"The [Tech] corner was off very, very far, so I felt like if I got it to [Yarbrough], he'd have the opportunity to catch it and get out of bounds," Willis said.

Freeze said the short pass was one of three options Willis had on that play. The others were for Willis to run around until time expired to send the game into overtime, or for Willis to throw a Hail Mary pass.

"They gave us the first down throw there to step out of bounds, which got [Barbir] inside the [VT] 35, which we felt really good about," Freeze said. "I was getting nervous because the official was standing over the ball and I knew we had it, and I was like, 'Oh, please, hurry up, let us snap it.’

"That's a tough call for all of us there. They're thinking Hail Mary."

Barbir then kicked the winning field goal.

"I closed my eyes," Willis said. "When everybody started yelling, I was so happy."

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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