West Virginia rallies to beat Army 24-21 in Liberty Bowl

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — 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 on Thursday.

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 5-yard pass from Doege.

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.”

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.

The game was played in overcast conditions with occasional showers and sub-40-degree temperatures. The weather and local 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.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Army: The Black Knights’ vaunted rushing offense couldn’t move early, not picking up their initial first down until the final play of the opening quarter. Eventually, they had some success attacking the perimeter of the West Virginia defense.

West Virginia: While the defense controlled things early, the Mountaineers couldn’t capitalize enough to build a significant lead. Turnovers hurt West Virginia, especially Doege’s fumble deep in his own territory late in the first half, giving Army a lead. Kendall taking over at quarterback made a difference as he threw for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.

DOWN PLAYERS

Army was down eight players who did not dress for the game, many of them key parts of the team, because of health and safety protocol.

“I don’t know if it changed,” Monken said. “Obviously, when you have players that are a big part of your offense and defense, kicking game included, it changes you some.”

DISAPPOINTING END

The loss snapped the Black Knights three-game winning streak. “The most painful aspect is just not being finish it,” linebacker Arik Smith said. “Being that close and not being able to finish it. But we will regroup and do this again, and we will win.”

UP NEXT:

Army: The Black Knights , who ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak, will try and continue its winning ways. There are 17 seniors listed on the Army roster, but four of the five offensive line starters are seniors.

West Virginia: While the Mountaineers lost four games during the regular season, three of those were to teams nationally ranked at the time. With key offensive players such as Doege and leading rusher Leddie Brown with another years of eligibility along with a young corps of receivers, the Mountaineers have a nice future on offense.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”