Army is renowned for its signature triple option scheme. The Black Knights rank second in the country in time of possession, and they rarely break out the hurry-up offense.
However, when Missouri claimed a 22-21 lead with 1:11 left, that contrasting style was required for Army. To deviate from normality even more, the Black Knights were forced to operate without their starting quarterback Christian Anderson for the game’s final drive, so Jabari Laws checked into the contest. It couldn’t have been a better sendoff for the senior.
Laws guided Army down the field with a pair of first down completions and a 13-yard rush. By the time the Black Knights sent out the field goal unit, three seconds remained. Cole Talley stepped up to the occasion and sunk a 41-yard field goal to snatch the victory. Celebration ensued as Army officially earned the title as 2021 Armed Forces Bowl champions with a 24-22 comeback over Missouri.
“I know there’s a lot of great stories in college football, but I really don’t think there are much more that are better than that,” Army fullback Jakobi Buchanan said. “All of Jabari’s work that goes unseen, and just for him to go out like that... a minute, 30 when I know a lot of people counted us out — ‘There’s no way they can march down the field with that kind of offense,’ but he led the offense to perfection. He got us into field goal range with some really good plays and then Cole just made it.”
Right before Army’s warp-speed drive to finish Missouri off, the Tigers pushed the Black Knights to the brink. In his first career start, quarterback Brady Cook led the Tigers on an 83-yard drive which consumed just 1:33 of clock. The redshirt freshman fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to Keke Chism to push his team to a 22-21 victory.
“I thought he played really well, very calm and collected, had great composure,” Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz said of Cook. “He did a really nice job on that last drive to give us a chance to win the game. Overall, I thought Brady played pretty well.”
However, an overthrow intended for running back Dawson Downing on the 2-point attempt left the door ajar for Army to win with a field goal.
“It was a play that we’ve repped a bunch of times and I felt comfortable with it,” Cook said of the 2-point attempt. “I felt some interior pressure and went to the tailback. I just misjudged it. It was a bad throw.”
Cook’s touchdown connection to Chism signified Missouri’s only points of the second half. The Tigers were in complete control early by establishing a dominant ground game. Pitted against the nation’s 12th ranked defense, Missouri accumulated 155 yards on 24 carries in the first half, exceeding the 111.8 yards Army allows per contest. Cook launched the scoring effort on the opening drive by executing a handoff into a speed option. He faked out the Army defense for a 30-yard touchdown.
Even when the Tigers’ offense was clicking, finishing drives was an issue. Missouri didn’t punt in the first half, but First Team All-SEC kicker Harrison Mevis sunk a series of chip shot field goals from 22, 25, and 39 yards — a testament to the strength of Army’s defense in critical situations. Missouri entered the half holding onto a 16-7 lead, but the disparity between the teams did not prolong further.
“There was really never a doubt in my mind. We knew what we had to do coming out of halftime,” Buchanan said. “We had to get the offense going, defense making plays, and we had to make more plays ourselves. Eventually, that’s what he did.”
In the second half, the Black Knights’ fortified their run defense and held Missouri to just 40 yards on the ground. They stopped a key 4th and 1 at the Army 43 yard-line — a vital moment which subsequently provided Army its first lead. The Black Knights also collected the lone takeaway of the contest as strong safety Marquel Broughton forced a fumble around midfield and outside linebacker Andre Carter recovered to stall a late Tiger drive.
“Basically, (free safety Cedrick Cunningham) knocked our d-line over and when he did that, I knew that I didn’t have an actual man and I could just go in and set the edge,” Broughton said, recalling the momentum-swinging 4th and 1 stop. “Without him doing that, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
Army cycled through three quarterbacks in the Armed Forces Bowl, finishing with Laws on the final drive. Christian Anderson earned the start and demonstrated phenomenal playmaking as a passer and a rusher. He delivered a perfectly-placed 42-yard deep ball to Tyrell Robinson on Army’s second drive of the contest and then capped the drive with a 22-yard rush around the edge.
The Black Knights later turned to Tyhier Tyler, who was responsible for the team’s only passing touchdown Wednesday. Down two points with 10:20 remaining, head coach Jeff Monken opted to gamble on 4th and 2. Instead of opting for a go-ahead field goal, Army had greater aspirations. Tyler scrambled outside the pocket and found Brandon Walters in the end zone for an uncontested touchdown reception — handing Army its first lead of the contest, 21-16.
Buchanan played a crucial role for an Army team which converted all five of its fourth down attempts. Buchanan was automatic in short yardage situations, plunging for 68 yards on 21 attempts. He extended his jaw-dropping streak to 258 consecutive handoffs without losing a yard. His most notable carry of the night involved a 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter where he utilized his 6’0”, 260 pound frame to truck a Missouri defender right before the goal line.
“It’s what they do best. They’re some of the best in the country in it,” Missouri inside linebacker Blaze Alldredge said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to grit up a little bit more. There were a couple times where we gave up some leaky yards and they’ve got some big boys. We come from the SEC, we’re used to big boys... A lot of it came down to 1-on-1s that we lost.”
After falling to Army in heartbreaking fashion, Missouri continues its quest for its first bowl victory since 2014. For the Black Knights, emerging on top in these big games has become quite common under Monken. For the fourth time in six years, Army will deliver bowl hardware back to West Point. It is also the third Armed Forces Bowl win over that timespan, but the feeling never gets old for the players.
“It’s a great feeling,” Broughton said in his postgame press conference. “They’re probably still down there yelling and screaming and listening to music and jumping around. It feels great for me but it feels even better for (the seniors), knowing it was their last game.”