ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Frankie Hickson picked up 120 yards rushing on 22 carries, Stephen Calvert went 16 of 35 passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, and Liberty beat Georgia Southern 23-16 in the Cure Bowl on Saturday.
Hickson became the first Liberty running back since Rashad Jennings (2006-08) to have back to back seasons of 1,000-yards rushing.
Flames coach Hugh Freeze, who began his first season coaching Liberty from a hospital bed in the press box following back surgery on Aug. 16, got his 50th career win.
Liberty (8-5) joined Georgia Southern and Appalachian State as the only teams to move from FCS to FBS and win a bowl game in its first season of eligibility.
Shai Werts completed 10 of 19 passes for 95 yards and gained 57 yards on 22 carries for Georgia Southern (7-6). Wesley Kennedy III had 104 yards on nine rushing attempts.
Calvert threw a 57-yard old touchdown pass to Johnny Huntley late in the first quarter and Joshua Mack scored on a three-run yard during the second as Liberty took a 16-7 halftime lead.
Kennedy had a 10-yard TD dash in the second for Georgia Southern, which was out gained 264-115 in the first half and 402-289 overall.
Antonio Gandy-Golden caught a 14-yard scoring strike from Calvert in the third.
The Liberty defense limited Georgia Southern to three field goals in the second half.
Liberty: Earlier this month, Freeze signed a multiyear contract extension. The 50-year-old had been out of coaching for two years before accepting the job at Liberty. He resigned his position at Mississippi in July 2017 under a cloud of NCAA sanctions and questionable personal conduct.
Georgia Southern went three-and-out on its first three possessions, gaining a combined 12 yards. Liberty had four yards over its initial two possessions.
Werts had his school-record streak of 230 consecutive passes without an interception end when Javon Scruggs picked off his pass late in the second. The turnover resulted on a 46-yard field goal by Alex Probert.
Liberty: Opens the 2020 season Sept. 5 at Virginia Tech.
Georgia Southern: Travels to Boise State to start the 2020 season on Sept. 5.