In sticking with the theme of the bizarre 2020 college football season, it was backup quarterback Austin Kendall that saved the day for the West Virginia Mountaineers on Thursday evening in the Liberty Bowl, delivering a 24-21 come-from-behind victory over the Army Black Knights.
The Oklahoma transfer had only been seen once this season in mop up duty in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky after starting nine games in 2019, but was ready, willing and able to answer the call when head coach Neal Brown made the switch following Jarret Doege’s lackluster first half performance.
West Virginia opened the game with what looked to be a promising drive down field, but came away empty handed after the drive stalled out and Tyler Sumpter missed a 37-yard field goal.
The Mountaineer defense forced a quick three and out on Army’s opening drive, but momentum stalled out once again when an errant pass from Doege was intercepted — which Army failed to capitalize on, turning the ball over on downs at West Virginia’s 38 yard line..
West Virginia was first on the board following a seven-play, 48 yard drive that ended with Sumpter knocking in a 31-yarder, but the Black Knights would turn around and answer with a 14-play, 74 yard touch drive that spanned almost seven and a half minutes, taking a 7-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Doege was able to establish some rhythm, and marched West Virginia downfield and into the endzone with a five yard touchdown pass to senior receiver TJ Simmons to put West Virginia back up, 10-7.
Doege’s magic seemed to run out on the next drive, as he fumbled the ball away on a 14-yard sack deep in West Virginia territory. Two plays later, Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler took it in from 6 yards out to give the Black Knights a 14-10 lead heading into the half.
The Black Knights kept their foot on the gas to open the second half, rattling off another patented eight minute, 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive ending with Tyler’s third rushing touchdown of the night to put Army up 21-10.
With his team in the hole and the momentum on Jeff Monken’s side, Neal Brown made the call to pull the struggling Doege.
Austin Kendall went right to work, putting together a quick 10-play drive ended by a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike O’Laughlin. A failed two-point attempt left West Virginia down 21-16.
Brown went back to his bag of tricks on the ensuing kickoff with a surprise onside kick, which was recovered by Alonzo Addae. The Mountaineers failed to capitalize on the momentum swing, going three and out on the following drive.
The two teams traded punts until midway through the fourth quarter when Kendall was able to engineer a 65-yard drive, ultimately ending with a beautiful 20-yard pass to TJ Simmons in the endzone for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Mountaineer defense responded and held off two attempts at tying the game from the Black Knights, with Josh Chandler-Semedo sealing the deal for the Mountaineers with an interception at the West Virginia 25-yard line.
Kendall finished the game 8-of-17 passing for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Doege went to the bench with 15-of-25 passing for 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Running back Leddie Brown eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season with 20 carries for 65 yards, becoming the first Mountaineer to reach that achievement since 2017.
TJ Simmons led the recievers with four grabs for 56 yards and two touchdowns. Mike O’Laughlin finished with three receptions for 11 yards and a touchdown. Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sean Ryan each had four catches for 51 and 48 yards, respectively.
West Virginia ends the season with a 6-4 record.