Army takes Liberty Bowl spot left by Tennessee's withdrawal
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The Army replaced Tennessee in the Liberty Bowl on Monday night, hours after the volunteers withdrew due to the COVID-19 test results.
The Black Knights, who had been engaged at the Independence Bowl since October before the game started, will play against West Virginia on December 31st in Memphis, Tennessee.
"We weren't in tears tonight, we were just thrilled," said army coach Jeff Monken. “Our boys were thrilled and excited when I announced it to them. It just couldn't have gone better. Sometimes things don't work the way you want them to, but somehow they work differently. It almost seems like it's only getting better. We're just humble that so many people got used to it and were so convinced that our team had a chance. "
The Black Knights (9-2) ran out of bowl on Sunday night when the Independence Bowl scheduled for December 26th in Louisiana was canceled with no available opponents.
A seat in the Liberty Bowl became available on Monday when Tennessee became the first team to retreat since bowl berths were announced. The volunteers ended their season after receiving the results of the COVID-19 tests on Sunday.
"Test results showed an increase in positive cases among athletes and employees, and subsequent contact tracing," Tennessee said in a statement. "The decision was made in consultation with health officials, the Southeastern Conference and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl."
In other Bowl news on Monday, Iowa No. 17 said football activities have been suspended for at least five days due to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases, but continues to hope to play at the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 30th. The Hawkeyes (6-2) meet Missouri (5-5).
The move to his Liberty Bowl opponent was no problem for West Virginia (5-4). The game will be the first between the teams since 1961.
"Our team deserved to be in a bowl, as did the 9-2 squad," said Shane Lyons, West Virginia sporting director. "While we're disappointed that Tennessee couldn't be in the game, the army needed a bowl and an opponent, and the climbers are happy to solve the problem."
West Virginia manager Neal Brown agreed, saying Monken and his staff had won 43 games in five seasons.
"We started the day preparing for one opponent and we will end the day preparing for another, but 2020 was that crazy," said Brown.
For two consecutive weeks, the army wins its rivals at the service academy. The Black Knights won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy on Saturday with a 10-7 win over the Air Force.
"It's a special group of young men who represent us every Saturday," said Mike Buddie, Army Sports Director. “Getting the opportunity was what we were hoping for. Honestly, I think we were stunned to find out that the opportunity would be in a bowl like the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. It really is the icing on the cake. It's more than we hoped for and we're just excited about the opportunity. "
The Volunteers will end 7-3-3 in seven of their last eight games. They fell 34-13 to 5th place from Texas A&M on Saturday.
Third year trainer Jeremy Pruitt is among those who tested positive for COVID-19. Pruitt said he was informed the Monday before that he tested positive and started isolating at home.
"I have mild symptoms, but I am fine," said Pruitt. "We are obviously disappointed that we cannot play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but the health and safety of our student athletes will always remain our top priority."
More AP College Football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
This story has been updated to correct Iowa's rank to 17th.
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