Army, Missouri headed to Armed Forces Bowl for Dec. 22 matchup

WEST POINT – In the midst of preparation for the main course of the season – the annual matchup with Navy – the Army football team got its just desserts reward on Sunday.

The Black Knights (8-3) are headed to the Armed Forces Bowl for the fourth time. Missouri (6-6) of the Southeastern Conference will be the foe for the Dec. 22 contest in Fort Worth, Texas (8 p.m. on ESPN).

By writers’ votes, Army is ranked No. 32 in the AP poll.

The Army-Missouri matchup was one of the last announced on selection Sunday, and was a bit unexpected since the Armed Forces Bowl tie-in called for likely opponents from the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA. Army confirmed its invitation in mid-afternoon without knowing who its opponent would be, as determined by ESPN Events bowl personnel.

"From our perspective we are excited for the opportunity to be going back to Fort Worth,'' said athletic director Mike Buddie, who called this military celebration event "the bowl of the Brave.''

"I'm really excited to match up against a really strong football team and have our fans get some phenomenal treatment down there,'' Buddie added.

Head coach Jeff Monken - who is taking his fifth Army team to a bowl in the past six seasons - said word started to leak out on social media, and his team handled the announcement with restrained excitement because the laser focus is on prepping for Saturday's Army-Navy game. He said there is football quality control staff that will begin to take a look at Missouri this week but the coaches won't tackle the preparation until next Sunday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Army West Point and Missouri this year,’’ said Brant Ringler, executive director of the bowl. “Both are tradition-rich programs with passionate followings, and we are looking forward to hosting the Black Knights and the Tigers as we celebrate our armed forces.''

Army Black Knights players enter the field before facing the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2020 Liberty Bowl.
Army Black Knights players enter the field before facing the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2020 Liberty Bowl.

Army is the only three-time champion of the Armed Forces Bowl in 18 previous contests. In their last visit, the Black Knights routed Houston 70-14, matching all-time, all-bowl records for points scored (70) and margin of victory (56).

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“I think (going to a bowl is) a credit to the coaching staff, to the players,’’ Army quarterback Christian Anderson said in November 2020. “We want to win the bowl game, obviously. I think it’s just a lot of credit to our mindset as a team and the goals we set for ourselves coming into the season.’’

This will be Army’s tenth bowl appearance and fifth over the past six seasons, all under eighth-year head coach Monken. The Black Knights beat North Texas in the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl; San Diego State in the 2017 Armed Forces Bowl; and, Houston in the 2018 Armed Forces Bowl. Army bowed to West Virginia, 24-21, in the 2020 Liberty Bowl.

Army linebacker Arik Smith (53) sacks West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege (2) for a fumble during the first half of the 2020 Liberty Bowl. JUSTIN FORD/USA TODAY Sports
Army linebacker Arik Smith (53) sacks West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege (2) for a fumble during the first half of the 2020 Liberty Bowl. JUSTIN FORD/USA TODAY Sports

Missouri was picked for fourth in the SEC East preseason poll and finished fourth. The Tigers have alternated wins and losses all season. Missouri beat Central Michigan 34-24, lost to Kentucky 35-28, beat Southeast Missouri 59-28, lost to Boston College 41-34 in overtime, lost to Tennessee 62-24, beat North Texas 48-25, lost to Texas A&M 35-14, beat Vanderbilt 37-28, lost to Georgia 43-6, beat South Carolina 31-28, beat Florida 24-23 in overtime and lost to Arkansas 34-17.

The Tigers like to throw the football. Sophomore quarterback Connor Bazelak has completed 246 of 377 throws (65 percent) for 2,548 yards (topping his mark of 2,366 last season). Bazelak has thrown for 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Senior running back Tyler Badie has rushed for a school single-season record 1,604 yards (six yards per carry) for 14 of Missouri's 21 rushing touchdowns; he has 2,340 career yards. Favorite targets include junior Tauskie Dove (35 catches, 552 yards), senior Keke Chism (36-447, 2 TD) and Badie (54-330, 4 TD). The Tigers have 15 different players with receptions and 10 with touchdowns.

Leading tacklers include junior defensive back Martez Manuel (77, 4.5 sacks), senior linebacker Blaze Allredge (75, 4.5 sacks) and sophomore defensive back Jaylon Carlies (67). The Tigers have 29 sacks and 11 interceptions.

Missouri averages 412 yards per game (179 on ground, 233 in air) while allowing 449 (229 on ground, 216 in air).

Army and Missouri have met four times previously. The Black Knights beat the Tigers 22-6 on Oct. 2, 1971, in Missouri's only visit to West Point. Army traveled to Columbia three times, losing 7-3 on Oct. 5, 1968; 24-10, on Sept. 12, 1981; and, 23-10 on Sept. 11, 1982. Tom Cahill coached Army in the first two meetings, Ed Cavanaugh in the latter two.

Army opened the 2021 season with impressive wins over Georgia State (43-10), Western Kentucky (38-35), Connecticut (52-21) and Miami of Ohio (23-10). The positive start took a decided turn when Ball State stunned Army with a 21-0 first-quarter blitz and 28-16 setback. Army battled late into a 20-14 loss at Wisconsin, and Wake Forest proved almost unstoppable, scoring on 10 of its first 11 drives in a record-setting 70-56 win at Michie Stadium.

With the season in danger of spiraling out of control, Army pulled out a 21-14 overtime win over Air Force and rolled past struggling Bucknell (63-10) and Massachusetts (33-17). Army was a road underdog when it knocked off bowl-bound Liberty, 31-16, on Nov. 27. The final regular-season game is Saturday’s matchup with Navy at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

More: Army jumps out to 24-0 lead, finishes off Liberty 31-16 for fourth win in a row

Army was slated to play in the 2020 Independence Bowl but the COVID pandemic led to 12 bowl games being canceled over a lack of schools willing to participate. One day following the announcement of the cancellation, Army received an invitation to the Liberty Bowl when the University of Tennessee withdrew over COVID cases.

More: Army football loses Independence Bowl bid, efforts still being made for new berth

The irony is Army headed into the Liberty Bowl missing about 50-60 players due to COVID cases and tracing, season-ending injuries and supposedly some associated with an academic cheating scandal revealed days earlier. Current Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jon Rhattigan and current star backs Jakobi Buchanan and Tyrell Robinson missed the contest.

The Black Knights (9-3) and Mountaineers (6-4) played before 8,100 – and a host of cardboard cutouts representing fans – at spacious Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee, on New Year’s Eve. Army moved out to a 21-10 lead in the third quarter before succumbing. A potential game-tying field goal by Quinn Maretzki sailed wide left with 1:50 to play, and a last-ditch pass attempt by Anderson was picked off with 29 seconds remaining.

More: Short-handed Army squanders lead, falls to West Virginia in Liberty Bowl

Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler – then a sophomore – got the start and earned team offensive MVP honors with 24 carries for 76 yards and three touchdown runs of 1, 6 and 2 yards. West Virginia backup quarterback Austin Kendall won offensive MVP honors for the Mountaineers, entering the game in the second half and completing 8-for-17 for 121 yards and two touchdowns to T.J. Simmons.

Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler (2) prepares for a handoff during the first half against West Virginia at the 2020 Liberty Bowl. JUSTIN FORD/USA TODAY Sports
Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler (2) prepares for a handoff during the first half against West Virginia at the 2020 Liberty Bowl. JUSTIN FORD/USA TODAY Sports

This will be the 10th bowl berth for Army since 1984, the year Academy officials relented from its previous directive to not accept bowl berths. Coach Jim Young led Army to wins over Michigan State (1984 Cherry Bowl) and Illinois (1985 Peach Bowl) and a one-point setback to Alabama (1988 Sun Bowl). Coach Bob Sutton came up short in a furious comeback effort to Auburn (1996 Independence Bowl). Coach Rich Ellerson guided Army to its first bowl win in 25 seasons by beating Southern Methodist in 2010 (Armed Forces Bowl).

Navy has been to 24 bowl games (12-11-1 record), starting with the 1924 Rose Bowl and last in the 2019 Liberty Bowl. Air Force has been to 27 bowl games (12-13-1 record), starting with the 1959 Cotton Bowl and last in the 2019 Cheez-it Bowl – the Falcons will play Louisville in the Dec. 27 First Responder Bowl.

As long as Army can produce bowl-eligible .500 records, the Black Knights are contractually locked into bowl berths through the 2025 season. Army signed a contract in 2019, securing Independence Bowl appearances in 2020, 2022 and 2024, and a different ESPN Events bowl in 2021, 2023 and 2025. Army also reached a deal with the Belk Bowl (in Charlotte, N.C.) to play in its bowl twice during the same period if invited.

A total of 83 schools were bowl eligible this season, with only 82 slots available. Twenty-one schools with 6-6 records have received berths: Auburn; Ball State; Boston College; Florida; Louisiana State; Louisville; Maryland; Memphis; Miami of Ohio; Middle Tennessee; Missouri; North Carolina; North Texas; Old Dominion; South Carolina; Teas Tech; Tulsa; Virginia; Virginia Tech; West Virginia; Wyoming. Hawaii - a regular in the Hawaii Bowl - got in at 6-7.

Twitter: @KenMcMillanTHR

Army bowl participation

1984 Cherry Bowl – Michigan State, won 10-6

1985 Peach Bowl – Illinois, won 31-29

1988 Sun Bowl – Alabama, lost 29-28

1996 Independence Bowl – Auburn, lost 32-29

2010 Armed Forces Bowl – Southern Methodist, won 16-14

2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl – North Texas, won 38-31 (OT)

2017 Armed Forces Bowl – San Diego State, won 42-35

2018 Armed Forces Bowl – Houston, won 70-14

2020 Liberty Bowl – West Virginia, lost 24-21

2021 Armed Forces Bowl – vs. Missouri, Dec. 22, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Army West Point NCAA college football Armed Forces Bowl Missouri