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WVU Defeats Army in 62nd Annual Liberty Bowl, 24-21

By Rick Loy - Staff Writer | Jan 6, 2021

December 31, 2020, the West Virginia Mountaineers beat the Army Black Knights in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl played in Memphis, TN. Coach Neal Brown’s Mountaineers used a strong defense and a quarterback change in second half to come from behind for the 24-21 victory.

Army averaging 282 yards rushing per game and sporting a 9-2 record going into the game took advantage of WVU miscues to take a 14-10 lead into the locker-room at the half. West Virginia Quarterback Jarrett Doege had many dropped passes, an inception, and a costly fumble at the Mountaineers own seven yard line just before half that the Black Knights recovered and capitalized on with QB Tyhier Tyler taking it into endzone from the one yard line to put the Cadets up at the break.

The Black Knights came out of the locker room from the halftime break and received the kickoff moving the ball down the field taking seven minutes off the third quarter clock with Tyler scoring from 2 yards out and the PAT good to go up 21-10.

The Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler had three rushing touchdowns — from 1, 6, and 2 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.”

Then West Virginia coach Neal Brown replaced Doege with Austin Kendall at quarterback to start the second half. The senior completed eight of 17 passes for 121 yards in two touchdowns in leading the Mountaineer comeback.

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.”

Kendall threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Simmons with 5:10 left, and West Virginia held off Army 24-21 for the victory.

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-Semedo ended Army’s final possession with an interception, and led the Mountaineers with 13 tackles.

West Virginia was held to 42 net rushing yards. The first game this year in which the Mountaineers have found a way to win while running for less than 130 yards. Mountaineers junior running back Leddie Brown did eclipse the 1000 rushing yards mark on the season picking up 65 stripes on 20 carries. WVU did pass for a combined 280 between its two QBs.

The WVU defense limited the Black Knights’ usually powerful run game to just 182 yards on 59 attempts. Army came to Memphis averaging 281 yards on the ground, which was the fourth best mark in the NCAA.

Both teams 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.”

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.

With the win, which was WVU’s first bowl game under Brown, its second-year head coach, West Virginia finished the 2020 season with a 6-4 record.

The win snaps a three-game bowl losing streak for the Mountaineers. They last won in the postseason in the 2015-16 Cactus Bowl in another fourth quarter comeback, over Arizona State in a 43-42 win.

WVU was led in passing with Doege 15-29, 159 yds., 1td, 1int., Kendall 8-17, 121 yds., 2tds., Leddie Brown rushed for 65 yards on 20 carries, and T. J. Simmons had four receptions for 56 yards and two tds. The Mountaineers had 322 total yards and 19 first downs.

Army was led in passing by Anderson 4-6, 57 yds., 1 int. QB Tyler led in rushing with 76 yards, 24 carries and 3 tds. The Black Knights had 16 first downs and 239 total yards.

After the game WVU Senior 1st Team All-American Darius Stills just sat on the field for a few minutes taking in all in for the last time suiting up for the Mountaineers.