(Photo Credit: Ryan Leopando- Arch City Sports)
The Missouri Tigers are the 2014 SEC East division champions. Never thought you’d hear that did you? For the second straight year Gary Pinkel and the boys in black and gold return to Atlanta after defeating the Arkansas Razorbacks in the inaugural battle line rivalry 21-14.
What didn’t start out as a pretty game, fortunately ended as one. The Tigers started out rocky after going three and out to open up the game. Arkansas capitalized on the opportunity as Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen led an 11 play 70-yard drive that was capped off with a play action pass to Jonathan Williams to put Arkansas up 7-0.
On their next drive Maty Mauk and the Tiger offense worked the edges of the field to stretch the Razorback defense. The passing game was the staple for Missouri in the first half as Arkansas shut down the run allowing 22-yards on the ground. Following a Trey Flowers sack on Mauk the Tigers special teams unit came on for a 52-yard attempt. Andrew Baggett converted on the try marking the longest field goal of his career to slice the deficit to four with the score 7-3. Baggett’s previous career long was 44-yards.
After an excellent punt return from Jared Cornelius Arkansas set up shop inside the Missouri 30 yard line. Later in the drive Allen found Keon Hatcher for the 12-yard score pushing the lead to 14-3.
With momentum favoring the Razorbacks Missouri needed a boost and received one from the Tiger defensive line. On the second play from scrimmage Josh Augusta, who forced two fumbles a week ago, stripped Williams of the ball and Donovan Newsom recovered for Missouri.
However, the celebration didn’t last long as Mauk threw a costly interception into the hands of D.J. Dean to give possession back to the Razorbacks. The interception was Dean’s first of the year.
The sold out crowd at Faurot Field helped the Tigers out when they needed it most as Arkansas knocked on the door with less than five minutes remaining in the half. Two false starts and a delay of game forced Arkansas to punt giving Missouri one last drive before half time. Baggett showed up once more connecting this time on a 50-yard attempt.
At the half Missouri trailed Arkansas 14-6.
Following an uneventful sloppy third quarter by both teams Missouri found its form in the fourth. With the season and a return trip to Atlanta on the line, it was the senior’s turn to step up on their special day. On third down and long Mauk hurled a ball deep to Jimmie Hunt, who was able to haul it in for a 44-yard gain. Hunt redeemed himself with the juggling catch after dropping two deep balls earlier in the game.
After Bud Sasser reeled in a 28-yard grab, Mauk hit Hunt on a back shoulder pass in the end zone to bring the Tigers within a pair. Missouri executed the two-point conversion to perfection as Marcus Murphy took the direct snap, tossed it to Sasser on the end around, who then connected with Darius White in the back of the end zone to tie the game up at 14 apiece.
With the game tied a rattled Arkansas offense came back to the field looking to regain the lead. Though the Tiger defense came up with a huge stop on just five plays, forcing the Razorbacks to punt.
On the ensuing drive coach Pinkel went back to basics using his two most reliable weapons in Murphy and Russell Hansbrough. 12 plays and 85 yards on the ground ended with Murphy galloping into the end zone on a 12-yard run to give Missouri its first lead of the game 21-14.
With less than five minutes in regulation the team and fans could hardly hold in the excitement. A banged up Allen returned to the field in one last effort to tie the game up, but looked all out of sorts. The defense had Arkansas on the ropes on fourth down, but a costly personal foul on Shane Ray moved the sticks to keep the Razorbacks hopes alive. Though, it was Markus Golden sealing the deal with a strip and fumble recovery on the next set of downs that closed the book on what has been a wild season for the Missouri Tigers.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean, but the Missouri Tigers did what they had to do earning the 21-14 victory in the inaugural battle line rivalry game. Some how it always seems like this team comes up with some way to win close games down the stretch. This game was no different. It started out as an awful first half for the Tigers amassing just 121 yards of total offense, but thanks to Baggett and the defense they were able to hang around.
THANK YOU ANDREW BAGGETT! You’ve redeemed yourself. After missing two extra points that almost cost his team the season against Tennessee, he comes out and hits a 52-yard and a 50-yard field goal to power the offense in the first half and keep his team in the game.
Aside from Ray’s bone headed mistake the defense showed up when they needed to, getting big stops and fumble recoveries just as they have done all season long. The defense has been the central figure in this teams success and will continue to be down the road as Dave Steckel continues to do an outstanding job.
The offense, while lack luster in the first also took care of business come crunch time. Mauk continues to learn the quarterback position and it has shown the past three games. Mauk threw just under 60 percent and amassed 265 yards and a touchdown on the game. While those don’t seem like great numbers many of the touchdowns have come from the ground rather than the air. Mauk’s accuracy has vastly improved, now it’s a matter of receivers catching the balls thrown their way.
Finally a big credit should go to the entire senior class, who played their final game at Faurot Field. A special shout out goes to Murphy, Sasser, and Hunt, who were the difference makers in this contest. Sasser and Hunt combined for 188 yards and a touchdown, while Murphy added 58 yards and the game winning touchdown.
Thankfully a great season is not yet over as the Tigers travel to Atlanta on Dec. 6 to take on either Alabama or Mississippi St. in the SEC championship. This is the second straight year the Tigers have captured the SEC East title and have now gained the full respect of their fellow SEC foes.
For now Tiger fans enjoy this victory rushing the field and celebrating downtown because in a week this team has a shot at the SEC crown.
Side Note: Rushing the field last year after defeating Johnny Football was much better, but that’s just my opinion. Additionally for all you early risers you can catch me at 5:30 a.m. Monday morning Dec. 1 on “The Mole Hole” with Randy Moehlman on CBS 920 AM in St. Louis.
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