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Liberty, EMU finally meet again in LendingTree Bowl

Sportsnaut
Sep 24, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) escapes a tackle by Syracuse Orange linebacker Mikel Jones (3) in the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) escapes a tackle by Syracuse Orange linebacker Mikel Jones (3) in the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty and Eastern Michigan have the same 7-5 records, but the Flames and Eagles definitely have different bowl histories entering their matchup in the LendingTree Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

An independent program, Liberty will be making its third straight bowl appearance and will also be seeking its third consecutive bowl victory.

The Flames appeared in and won the last two Cure Bowls in Orlando, earning an overtime win against Coastal Carolina last year.

The victory last year capped off a 10-1 season for the Flames, and coach Hugh Freeze has expressed some dissatisfaction with this team’s 7-5 record heading into Saturday.

“I don’t feel like I got the most out of our team this year,” Freeze said. “I want one more shot. That burns within me, and hopefully it burns within our team and within our coaches to prepare to play a really good football team and us play very well against them on national TV.”

A television audience will likely see standout junior quarterback Malik Willis in a Liberty uniform for the last time.

Expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in this spring’s NFL draft, Willis has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,626 yards and 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He has also run for 820 yards and 11 TDs.

“It’s a monster challenge,” Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said of containing Willis. “He can run it, he can throw it, he runs their offense. He’s super, super talented. We know he’s dangerous on the ground and in the air, by design and on his own when things don’t go exactly how they planned.”

Eastern Michigan will be making its third bowl appearance in four seasons, but the Eagles haven’t enjoyed the same postseason success that Liberty has.

The Eagles have lost their last three bowl games by a combined 10 points and haven’t won a bowl game since beating San Jose State in the 1987 California Bowl.

Eastern Michigan, which finished tied for fourth in the MAC West, is also looking for its first eight-win season since 1987.

Despite not having a standout player like Willis, the Eagles’ offense is averaging 31 points a game offense.

Quarterback Ben Bryant has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 2,921 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions. Jawon Hamilton (631 yards, four TDs), Darius Boone Jr. (400 yards, six TDs) and Samson Evans (264 yards, 12 TDs) lead a balanced rushing attack.

The programs have met once before. In 1989, Liberty earned a 25-24 win at Eastern Michigan, its first over an FBS program.

–Field Level Media