MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Reserve quarterback Austin Kendall threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Simmons with 5:10 left and West Virginia held off Army 24-21 on Thursday in the Liberty Bowl.
Army (9-3) had a chance to tie it with 1:50 left, but Quinn Maretzki’s 39-yard field goal was wide left. Josh Chandler ended Army’s final possession with an interception, and led the Mountaineers (6-4) with 13 tackles.
Simmons also scored on a 5-yard pass from starting quarterback Jarret Doege.
Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler, a Woodside High School alumnus from Newport News, had three rushing touchdowns – from 1, 6, and 2 yards – to tie a Liberty Bowl record.
The Black Knights initially were scheduled to play in the Independence Bowl but seemed left out of the bowl lineup after the Shreveport, Louisiana, bowl was canceled. They got the opportunity to play in the Liberty Bowl after Tennessee (3-7) opted out because of COVID-19 cases.
The game was played in overcast conditions with occasional showers and sub-40-degree temperatures. The weather and local COVID-19 restrictions limited the crowd in the 60,000-seat Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, leaving clusters of the announced 8,187 fans scattered throughout the stadium.
What began as a defensive battle, changed after halftime. Army’s rushing offense got untracked, while a change in quarterbacks to Kendall for West Virginia gave it more firepower through the air.
Army: The Black Knights’ vaunted rushing offense couldn’t move early, not picking up their initial first down until the final play of the opening quarter. Part of the reason the Black Knights had eight players not play for safety and health protocols, many of them on the two-deep chart.
West Virginia: While the defense controlled things early, the Mountaineers couldn’t capitalize enough to build a significant lead. Turnovers hurt West Virginia, especially Doege’s fumble deep in his own territory late in the first half, giving Army a lead. Kendall taking over at quarterback made a difference as he threw for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Army: The Black Knights , who ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak, will try and continue its winning ways. There are 17 seniors listed on the Army roster, but four of the five offensive line starters are seniors.
West Virginia: While the Mountaineers lost four games during the regular season, three of those were to teams nationally ranked at the time. With key offensive players such as Doege and leading rusher Laddie Brown with another years of eligibility along with a young corps of receivers, the Mountaineers have a nice future on offense.