Maine vs. Liberty 06

Liberty running back Frankie Hickson weaves down the field during the game against Maine on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019 at Williams Stadium.

Frankie Hickson spent nearly a minute discussing the banter that goes back and forth between the players in the Liberty football locker room. Most of the players enjoy discussing the various high schools they attended, and some of the debates center on whether Florida or Texas produces the top high school talent in the nation.

As Hickson was wrapping up his thoughts Monday, the redshirt senior running back turned to look at teammate Elijah Benton and did his best to keep a straight face while delivering a message: “This is my brother, but he has to go down,” Hickson said as he and Benton both shared a laugh.

Hickson and Benton both attended high schools in Lynchburg — Hickson at Heritage High School and Benton at Liberty Christian Academy — and the two programs are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at City Stadium in the VHSL Region 3C semifinals.

Neither player knew Monday if they would be able to attend Saturday’s playoff game with the Flames kicking off earlier in the day at noon against Virginia in Charlottesville.

The unusual kickoff time for a high school football playoff game is the result of Heritage and midtown school E.C. Glass both being the higher seeds for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Hilltoppers, in Region 4D, host Pulaski County Friday night.

Hickson said he did not attend the Pioneers’ 69-13 region quarterfinal victory over Western Albemarle because the early rounds of the playoffs are traditionally lopsided, especially with Heritage’s recent domination in Region 3C.

Saturday’s matchup against the Bulldogs marks the first time the two programs are meeting in postseason play. LCA’s victory over Turner Ashby last weekend was the first VHSL playoff victory for the program.

“There’s always a little banter in the locker room,” Hickson said. “ … There’s always going to be rivalry with high school ball.”

After Hickson and Benton each shared the laugh following Hickson’s prediction of a Heritage victory, Benton was asked if he had a response.

“We’ll see what happens on [Saturday],” he replied.

The ideal schedule

Flames coach Hugh Freeze is preparing to face the fourth and final Power 5 opponent on Liberty’s schedule this season, with Syracuse, Rutgers and BYU all resulting in losses.

As he and his staff prepare for Virginia, Freeze was asked Monday if the Cavaliers should be a yearly staple on the schedule.

“My philosophy on scheduling, which I share with Ian [McCaw, athletic director’, I think, that those who do it, I’d love to play two Power 5s a year,” Freeze said. “There may be some years where you get three, and if we can keep them in this region — those Power 5s — I’m all for it.

“Yes, [the series with UVa] makes sense to me. I think it’s cheaper on our budget for travel, it’s easier on the kids, the families, and it draws some interest locally, whether it’s Virginia, Virginia Tech, or the Carolinas, or the Dukes or something in this region, Power 5-wise.

“Not that you don’t venture out from time to time, but those all make sense to me to play those, and certainly Virginia is right up the road. It’s one that I think as often as they would play us. I don’t know all the negotiations that happen in those deals on home-and-home and stuff, I let Ian and those guys take care of that, but if you’re asking me if Virginia is one of the Power 5s that I would be open to playing all the time, yes.”

The Flames are scheduled to play the Cavaliers more four times between 2023 and 2030, and Liberty is slated to face Virginia Tech six times between 2020 and 2030.

McCaw and Mickey Guridy, the senior associate athletic director (internal operations), have also landed two-for-one contracts with Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest for matchups as far in advance as 2031.

Liberty’s 2020 schedule features three Power 5 matchups against ACC programs Virginia Tech, Syracuse and N.C. State.

The schedules moving forward will have at least two Power 5 programs in 2021, 2023, 2025, 2026, 2028, 2029 and 2030; three in 2027 (Duke, Virginia and Virginia Tech); and four more in 2022 (Wake Forest, BYU, Arkansas and Virginia Tech).

The Flames played two Power 5 teams in consecutive weeks last season, falling to UVa 45-24 and Auburn 53-0.

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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