West Virginia University senior quarterback Austin Kendall’s last in-game pass attempt was on Sept. 12 in the Mountaineers’ season-opener against Eastern Kentucky. In the three months since then, Kendall had served as WVU’s primary backup to starting quarterback Jarret Doege.
With West Virginia trailing Army 21-10 in the third quarter of Thursday’s Liberty Bowl, however, Kendall suddenly found himself in charge of leading WVU’s comeback attempt. West Virginia played an evenly-matched first half against the cadets. After playing just one game in the last 45 days, the Mountaineers had some rust to shake off and Doege was not perfect, but the team found itself leading 10-7 with possession and two and a half minutes until halftime to try and put more points on the board.
What followed was nothing short of a disaster for the Mountaineers. Doege took a sack and fumbled the ball into the arms of an Army defender. The Black Knights converted Doege’s mistake into a touchdown to take a 14-10 lead and then took the opening possession of the second half 75 yards for another touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
That is when Kendall entered the game and gave the Mountaineers the spark they needed. On his first drive, Kendall took WVU 80 yards on 10 plays and hit tight end Mike O’Laughlin in the end zone on fourth down to pull the Mountaineers back into the game, 21-16.
The WVU defense then clamped down on Army’s option offense enough to give Kendall and the offense ample opportunity to retake the lead. It took a couple of drives, but a defensive pass interference on the cadets eventually helped WVU get back into the red zone and Kendall hit senior T.J. Simmons from 20 yards out to give WVU its first lead of the second half, 24-21, with three minutes left to play.
Army would miss a would-be game-tying field goal on its next drive and retake possession following a WVU three-and-out with 1:28 left in the game. Forced to throw the ball, Army quarterback Christian Anderson tried to push the ball downfield on a fourth-and-seven and was intercepted by WVU linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo, sealing the victory for the Mountaineers.
Kendall, who started nine games for WVU last season, finished the game 8 of 17 for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Doege finished 15 of 25 for 159 yards, one touchdown and two turnovers. Junior Leddie Brown carried the ball 20 times for just 65 yards but did surpass 1,000 rushing yards for the season. Simmons had four receptions, 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while O’Laughlin finished with 11 yards and the other touchdown.
Chandler-Semedo finished the game as the team’s leading tackler with 13 to go along with a tackle for loss and the game-winning interception. Senior Dylan Tonkery finished his WVU career with 11 total tackles and former walk-on Dante Donamico had 10. WVU held the Black Knights well below their average rushing yards with the cadet only gaining 182 yards on the ground.
For West Virginia, it is the first bowl win since the 2016 Cactus Bowl and the first bowl victory under second-year head coach Neal Brown.