Whether Liberty was frustrated about missing the playoffs at 8-2, or showing that they were a playoff-caliber team -- or both -- the Chargers went out with a bang Thursday in the Larry Gergley Gridiron Bowl in Winter Park.
Highlighting their big-play makers from the basis of the season, the Chargers will be one of the few teams in the state to end their season with a win, a 36-22 victory over the Ocoee Knights.
The Swint brothers -- senior receiver La'Randy (six catches, 111 yards, two touchdowns) and freshman tailback Ja'Randy (19 carries, 117 yards, 1 TD) -- had big nights, and the defense got in on the act with two sacks.
At 9-2, the 2018 Chargers now hold the best record in school history, which was not lost on senior quarterback Jaelen Ray, who relished one last chance to take the field with his teammates.
"We were told, if we lost, we tie the record, so, yes, there was something to play for," he said. "A lot of points were scored this season, we had a lot of chemistry on offense.
Defensive end Sterly St. Felix, who had a tackle for loss and blocked a punt, said the team had to finish with a win to make anything else it did this year matter.
"We were out to show that it was a mistake we weren't in the playoffs," he said. "But the best record in school history, yeah. we'll be proud of that."
Ray hit La'Randy Swint on first-half touchdown passes of 32 and 24 yards, and Liberty used the bruising attack of brother Ja'Randy, who had 112 of his yards by halftime and scored the game's first points on a six-yard run two minutes in, to build a 22-0 halftime lead. By that point, Ocoee (5-6) had run 15 plays and gained 35 yards.
The Knights scored on their first two second-half drives, but the Chargers answered with more of the same: two four-minute drives, and a 13-yard scoring toss from Ray to Elijah Stefanici and a three-yard Donovin Johnson three-yard run.
Pennington acknowledged that playing a bowl game that ends the season, win or lose, was a bit abnormal.
"Through the week was a little strange, we went a little lighter with the kids because they chose to stay and do this," he said. "I was a little nervous we wouldn't be serious enough in the game, but we dominated the first half, and still didn't play with a lot of energy."
Not only did the Chargers win nine games, but did so in Pennington's first year as a head coach, including eight and a row to close out.
"We started making jokes around the Lake Nona game of how many first-year coaches make the playoffs, just the points didn't work out for us," he said. "But it was a pretty good year. I'll take it."