The Greatest Win in Mizzou History
Which was greater?
|Mizzou 3, Notre Dame 0
||Mizzou 22, Ohio State 21
|September 9, 1978
South Bend, IN
Notre Dame Stadium
|September 25, 1976
Significance: Notre Dame entered the 1978 season the defending national champion; head coach Dan Devine had found the title that had stayed out of his grasp at Mizzou. He returned Joe Montana and a defense led by Russ Browner and Bob Golic. His first opponent in 1978 was a Missouri program that had just fired Devine's hand-picked replacement. Mizzou had gone just 4-7 in 1977 and surely would not be able to compete with the Irish in their first game with Warren Powers as head coach. Judging by total yards (334-288 Notre Dame), first downs (18-12), and the field position battle, ND really should have won this one easily. But Mizzou played the most timely defense they had ever played, and they came away with the mother of all upsets.
By game's end, Notre Dame would put together nine decent scoring opportunities, but time after time, the Mizzou defense made plays. Chris Garlich recovered a Montana fumble inside the Mizzou redzone in the first quarter, then intercepted a pass in the second. Notre Dame began to drive again, but this time Montana was picked off by Eric Wright (his future San Francisco teammate) deep in Mizzou territory. In a scoreless first half, Montana (or should I say, "Potentially the Greatest QB in NFL History" Joe Montana) went 4-for-17 with the aforementioned two picks.
In the third quarter, with the Mizou defense struggling to move the ball even a little, Notre Dame continued to threaten. They would go for it on 4th-and-1 from the MU 11 and fail. Mizzou immediately fumbled, but Notre Dame still couldn't score--Chris Garlich and Kurt Peterson stopped Vegas Ferguson for a loss on 4th-and-goal. Only a few minutes later, Notre Dame missed a field goal after a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty* backed them up.
* The penalty came when Irish WR Kris Gaines slapped Mizzou DB Russ Calabrese on the helmet after a big gain. Calabrese had talked smack about the Irish all week, and it had clearly gotten into their heads.
Mizzou had one sustained drive all game, but it came at the perfect time. With ND on their heels after three blown opportunities, the Tigers drove for a Jeff Brockhaus field goal. And then it was time for more defense. Notre Dame threatened yet again and was pushed aside, and with time running out, the Irish muffed a punt and Mizzou was able to run out the clock.
Outmanned and outgained, Mizzou forced three huge first-half turnovers and played the greatest bend-don't-break defense in history in the second half. Garlich, Peterson, Eric Wright, and the Mizzou defense had baffled Montana and the Irish, leading to one of Mizzou's greatest ever upsets, and greatest ever wins. Dan Devine had lost to his former team, and the Warren Powers Era had started with a bang.
Significance: Of all of Mizzou's upset wins of the 1970s, this had to be considered the least likely. Ohio State was ranked 2nd in the country and had just beaten 7th-ranked Penn State in Happy Valley. Meanwhile, after drubbing a Top 10 USC team on the road, Mizzou had lost QB Steve Pisarkiewicz and been pummeled, 31-6, by a mediocre Illinois team at home the preceding week. Backup Pete Woods would see his first career start in front of the third-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history (87,936), against a team that had won 25 straight homes games.
Things went according to plan early. Buckeye LB Nick Buonamici tipped and intercepted a Woods pass, setting up a Pete Johnson touchdown that gave OSU a comfortable 21-7 halftime lead. Johnson ran for 103 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half, and it looked like Ohio State would win easily.
But then the Mizzou defense stiffened. OSU would gather just 82 yards of offense in the second half (Johnson had just 19). After Big Play Chris Garlich intercepted a pass near midfield early in the third quarter, Mizzou's Curtis Brown scored from four yards out to cut the lead to 21-14. From there, it became a battle of punting units. It was a staring contest--who would make the first mistake?--and Ohio State blinked.
When Tiger DE Blaine Henningsen sacked OSU QB Rod Gerald with about five minutes left in the game, OSU was forced to punt. A previously boisterous crowd was starting to get anxious. Meanwhile, Mizzou settled down...almost too much. Milking the clock and attempting just two passes, the Tigers moved down the field, benefitting from a timely Ohio State holding penalty and moving into Buckeye territory. On 3rd-and-6 from the OSU 40, Brown burst through the line for 31 yards, setting up some serious drama. Forget OSU v. Mizzou--it became Pete Woods v. OSU crowd.
Woods repeatedly asked for help from the officials in quieting the crowd near the endzone (guess you could do that then), which just raised the volume (and Woody Hayes' hackles) even more. On third-and-goal with 16 seconds left, Woods rolled left and found Leo Lewis wide open for a 2-yard touchdown. Without hesitation, Al Onofrio decided to go for the win. After a holding penalty hegated a failed Mizzou 2-point pass attempt, Woods snuck through a crowd of bodies and found the endzone. After getting dominated for most of the first half, Mizzou had straight-up stolen a 1-point win in Columbus.
Greeted by 800 fans at the Columbia airport, Onofrio told reporters, "Looking back on all the football games Missouri has played, I'd say this has to be the greatest football game Missouri has ever played under the conditions." With a backup QB facing the toughest road environment in the country, it's hard to disagree.
|Aftermath: The win kick-started one of Mizzou's most exciting seasons ever. (Exciting, not successful.) Mizzou would lead #1 Alabama at halftime the next week before falling. They built a 5-2 record before iffy losses to Colorado and OSU almost knocked them out of bowl contention. However, they rebounded, beating Kansas and upsetting #2 Nebraska in another Greatest Win candidate to finish 7-4 and finish with a trip to the Liberty Bowl.||
Aftermath: In what I've already claimed was Mizzou's craziest season ever, Mizzou would follow up this win with a 24-3 shellacking of #14 North Carolina and move as high as #7 in the country before injuries, exhaustion, and inconsistency took their toll. In conference play (in one of the Big 8's best years--seven of eight teams finished with winning records), Mizzou would lose four of six down the stretch, still finding time to beat 9-3 Nebraska and 8-4 Colorado. Somehow, they would finish 6-5 and miss out on a bowl despite winning in LA and Columbus in the first month of the season.