Austin Kendall Finishes His College Career As WVU’s Unlikely Bowl Hero
If there was ever a year for the unexpected to happen, it is, of course, 2020. And on the final day of 2020, one would have to believe that we could squeeze one more unexpected thing in before the new year.
Heading into Thursday, it seemed very likely that Austin Kendall’s college football career was going to come to an unceremonious end. No pomp, no circumstance, just serving as West Virginia’s backup quarterback for one final game and then he would move on with his life. Before the Liberty Bowl between WVU and Army kicked off Thursday afternoon, there was no reason to think anything different would happen.
As has been shown all year, however, the unexpected can happen and a quarterback whose college career appeared to be dead in the water can lead his team on a two-score, second-half come back and go out on top.
Kendall, who has announced that he will not be returning to WVU next season, entered Thursday’s Liberty Bowl in the same role he had every game this season – second on the depth chart behind starter Jarret Doege.
Doege supplanted Kendall as the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback at the end of the 2019 season. Since then, Kendall has been Doege’s primary backup and has attempted just six in-game passes, all against Eastern Kentucky in WVU’s 2020 season-opener.
Thursday was different, however. Doege threw an interception, his first in over 200 pass attempts, and lost a fumble in the first half against Army. The fumble led to a turnover by the cadets with less than four minutes left in the half that gave them a 14-10 halftime lead. When the Black Knights took the opening drive of the third quarter 75 yards for another touchdown to go up 21-10, it was suddenly Kendall who was pegged to try and dig the Mountaineers out of the hole.
“Jarret has played very, very well all year,” WVU coach Neal Brown said after the game. “He just, for whatever reason, didn’t see it very well … and we had two uncharacteristically bad turnovers. Austin has practiced really well for really the last six weeks. We have confidence in him.”
WATCH: Neal Brown on WVU’s Liberty Bowl Victory Over Army
On his first drive, Kendall led the Mountaineers 80 yards down the fields and into the endzone, completing 4 of 7 passes for 69 yards and a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike O’Laughlin that got WVU right back into the game, 21-16.
“I thought he came in in relief and really did a nice job,” Brown said. “We had some drops, but we made plays when we needed to.”
The Mountaineers defense was able to hold off Army’s option offense for the rest of the game, giving Kendall and the Mountaineers enough opportunities to retake the lead. After a couple of failed possessions, a defensive pass interference finally got WVU back into Army territory and Kendall was able to lay a ball into senior receiver T.J. Simmons in the endzone from 20 yards out to give them a 24-21 lead.
“When they told us he was going to be the one leading us through the game in the second half, I was excited,” said Simmons, who will also not return next season. “I felt like, with this being his last game, he should get some time on the field.”
WATCH: T.J. Simmons and Josh Chandler-Semedo Win Liberty Bowl MVP Awards
Two more stops from WVU’s defense and Kendall had led WVU back from an 11-point deficit to win its first bowl game since 2016 and just its second since joining the Big 12. Kendall finished 8 of 17 on passes with 121 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m more excited for Austin,” Simmons added. “He does a good job of being a good teammate to Doege. He helps him out whenever he sees something that Doege doesn’t see, he stills practices hard, he comes to work every day ready to work. He puts in extra work every day regardless of if he’s the starting quarterback or not.”
“I thought Austin did a really nice job,” Brown said. “I think it’s a nice story in the fact that over the last two months of the season he handled adversity really well, had a good attitude, was fun to coach and then when his number got called he made the most of it.”