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Takeaways: A successful season, but Army falls short in Liberty Bowl vs. WVU

Filling in last-minute, the Black Knights end 2020 on a sad note after losing to West Virginia.

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-West Virginia vs Army Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

2020 was a heck of a rollercoaster, and college football was no exception. Luckily for Army football and fans, there were many more ups than downs this season. Scrambling to rearrange a schedule, the Black Knights managed to line up a full slate of 11 games, with only a game against BYU left unplayed and the Air Force game rescheduled to after the Army-Navy game.

Not only that, but Army managed to atone for last season’s shortcomings against service academy rivals. The Black Knights blanked Navy in an understatedly dramatic fashion and then dispatched Air Force to reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy — arguably the most important achievement for a service academy football team.

Army also posted a 9-2 record in the regular season, with losses to a powerful Cincinnati team and a respectable Tulane squad. And while it seemed for a moment that Army would be denied a bowl bid, providence seemingly stepped in to offer a slot in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. It had many Army fans clamoring for a fourth bowl win for Jeff Monken.

Unfortunately, the West Virginia Mountaineers had other plans.

Army fought hard, and played pretty well for being without three of its top players, but the Mountaineers prevailed, winning 24-21 in Memphis on New Year’s Eve.

After a missed field goal attempt and an interception, the Mountaineers finally struck first in the opening quarter to take a 3-0 lead. Army and West Virginia then traded touchdowns in the second quarter with West Virginia poised to march down the field in the closing minutes of the half. However, a fumble recovered at the West Virginia 7-yard line opened the door for the Black Knights to take a 14-10 lead at halftime.

Army received the ball to open the second half and marched down on a characteristic 8-minute drive to extend their lead 21-10 on QB Tyhier Tyler’s third rushing score of the game. The Mountaineers responded with a drive and touchdown of their own, narrowing the lead to 21-16 after a failed two-point conversion attempt.

After trading punts to close the third quarter and open the fourth, backup West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall managed to string together a series of critical completions, including a 20-yard touchdown strike to take a 22-21 lead. A successful West Virginia two-point conversion pushed the lead to 24-21.

Behind key plays from QBs Christian Anderson and Tyler, Army drove back to the West Virginia 22-yard line to set up a potential game-tying field goal which ended up sailing wide of the goalpost.

The Black Knights defense managed to force a quick three-and-out, putting the ball back in Army’s hands for a last-ditch attempt to tie or win the game. Unfortunately, an interception on 4th-and-7 at the West Virginia 47-yard line would seal the game for the Mountaineers.

It was ultimately a disappointing finish for Army after such a successful campaign, highlighted with CIC victories over Navy and Air Force. A bowl victory would’ve been the cherry on top.

Nonetheless, the Black Knights and Army faithful everywhere should look back with pride on the season, and look forward to what 2021 will bring.