MEMPHIS (AP) — West Virginia coach Neal Brown knew he would use reserve quarterback Austin Kendall in the second half. The redshirt senior ended up leading the Moutaineers to a Liberty Bowl victory.
Kendall threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to T J Simmons with 5:10 left, and West Virginia held off Army 24-21 yesterday.
Brown said the decision to switch quarterbacks was made at halftime by the Mountaineers coaching staff after starter Jarret Doege struggled, particularly in the second quarter.
“Jarret has played very, very well all year, but for whatever reason, he didn’t see it well,” Brown said, adding, “I thought (Kendall) came in in relief and did a nice job.”
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 five-yard pass from Doege.
Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler had three rushing touchdowns — from one, six, and two yards — to tie a Liberty Bowl record.
“You can’t do anything without the offensive line, the slotbacks and the fullbacks,” Tyler said. “They pave the way, and I just follow.”
The Black Knights initially were scheduled to play in the Independence Bowl but seemed left out of the bowl line-up after the Shreveport, Louisiana, bowl was cancelled. 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 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.
Both team controlled the other’s offense through much of the first half. Army coach Jeff Monken noted that his team, one of the best rushing teams in the country, was limited to 83 total yards by halftime.
“West Virginia just whipped blocks, they beat blocks,” Monken said. “(They) got themselves where they needed to be to make the play. And they did that a lot.”
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.
“I thought this game kind of mirrored 2020 in a lot of ways,” Brown said. “A fitting way to close out the year. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was gritty.”