Countdown: Missouri Football (1920-2010): #13-12

I mentioned yesterday that, almost counter-intuitively, as we get nearer to the top of the countdown, the regret grows higher.  Well ... with the two teams below, I welcome you to Regret Central.

#90-86, #85-81, #80-76, #75-71, #70-66, #65-61, #60-56, #55-51, #50-46, #45-41, #40-36, #35-31, #30-26, #25-23, #22-20, #19-17, #16-14

#13: Mizzou 1925 (6-1-1)

Best Win: Mizzou 9, Nebraska 6
Worst Loss: Kansas 10, Mizzou 7

In the last 90 years, Mizzou has never had an undefeated team.  That much you probably know.  (They did go 7-0-1 in 1907, by the way.)  What you probably don't know is just how close the 1925 team came to pulling off the feat.

I'll once again let The Savitar set the table for this one.

A whirlwind passing attack, which only a Louisiana sun could halt and only a Kansas windstorm could turn back, carried the Golden Helmets to the 1925 Valley Championship. Tulane was tied and a close contest yielded to Kansas, but Nebraska was defeated for the first time since 1899 and the Kansas Aggies, Rolla, Iowa State, Washington and Oklahoma bowed to the imperial Bengals.

The Tigers were not only a wonderful team of speed, brains and courage, as their record evinces, but they possessed an intangible colorful quality which made them a favorite with football followers wherever they played. The appearance of the Golden Helmets to warm up was invariably the signal for a thunderous welcome.

This great team, led by Gwinn Henry (and new assistant coach Don Faurot), opened the season in less than hospitable territory.  They went down to New Orleans to take on what was likely the second-best Tulane squad of all time, a team that would win all nine games after this contest, outscoring opponents 246-32 for the season (in the Southern Conference, mind you).  They killed Auburn, Ole Miss, the great Northwestern, and other teams ... but first, they got all the fight they wanted from Mizzou.  Early-morning showers led to the stickiest of days in Louisiana.  Mizzou struck early with a long pass from star halfback Sam Whiteman to end Arthur Coglizer, setting up a three-yard touchdown run and a 6-0 lead. A pass interference penalty (and with no evidence to the contrary, I'm going to call it a blatant, homerific call, ahem) set Tulane up for their lone score in the second quarter, and the game was tied at 6-6.  From there, it was a battle of sweat and willpower.  Neither great team budged, and the game ended in a 6-6 tie.  It was the only blemish in Tulane's 9-0-1 season.

As if the schedule couldn't have began any rougher, Mizzou then returned home to play host to Nebraska, who had just scored a dominant 14-0 win over Red Grange and Illinois, the only time Grange's Illini were ever shut out with him on the field.  The Huskers had All-Americans on the line and Olympic sprinter Roland Locke in the backfield, and when Nebraska blocked a punt and scored an easy touchdown early in the game, it looked as if Mizzou's ten-game losing streak to the Huskers (they hadn't beaten them since 1899, but they didn't play every year) was going to rather easily reach 11.  But that was all the damage the great Huskers would do.  Teddy O'Sullivan found Bert Clark for 15-yard touchdown pass, and the conversion gave Mizzou a 7-6 lead.  Late in the game, Mizzou pulled a Sod Reesing on Nebraska great Ed Weir to lock down a fantastic 9-6 win and a lovely 1-0-1 start.

Things briefly got easier after that. Mizzou romped over Missouri-Rolla, 32-0, but then had to head to Manhattan for a showdown with a very good Kansas State squad in a mud puddle.  Rain had destroyed the field, and neither team could pass or kick.  The only score came when Mizzou blocked a punt and made a short field goal in the third quarter.  They would lock up the tough win, 3-0.  With potentially the best two squads in the Missouri Valley both vanquished, a conference title seemed imminent.  Mizzou took out Iowa State at home, 23-8, when made the 120-mile trip east to conquer Wash. U., 14-0, in another epic rainstorm.  Coglizer and Whiteman scored the touchdowns, and Mizzou held Wash. U. to just two first downs.

Homecoming at Ol' Mizzou gave the Tigers a chance to lock up the conference title.  They took on Benny Owens' Oklahoma Sooners ... and while OU has kept Mizzou from their goals eleventy billion times over the years, they didn't in 1925.  Mizzou took a 16-6 lead, then held off a late Sooner charge to win, 16-13. All that was left between Mizzou and an undefeated season were the hated Jayhawks of Kansas.  Kansas was just 1-5-1 on the season, but a brutal late-November wind served as a perfect equalizer in this battle.  Going with the wind in the first quarter, Mizzou scored on a long touchdown pass, but KU equalized with their own wind-aided drive in the second quarter.  Mizzou got their turn with the wind again in the third quarter, but a goalline stand from the Beakers kept the score tied.  It remained 7-7 until the final play of the game.  Savitar, take it away:

The game remained a deadlock until the final play, when an event such as old-timers tell credulous listeners and spindle-chested freshmen dream about, occurred.

Kansas had the ball on Missouri's 35-yard line with time for but one play. The Jayhawk captain called time out and looked inquiringly to the sidelines. One Wall, a substitute place-kicker, was sent in to do the Casey-at-the-bat act. He fared a great deal better than the Casey of song, however, for he sent the ball squarely between the psots. The timekeeper fired his gun; victory-crazed Kansas swarmed over the field, tore down the goal posts and carried off the players.

Ouch.

So Mizzou came within a PAT (against Tulane) and one yard (against Kansas) of perfection in 1925.  Columbia was becoming a football town, and things would get even better the next season.  But the regret of the tight losses would linger.

#12: Mizzou 1998 (8-4)

Best Win: #23 Mizzou 34, West Virginia 31
Worst Loss: #7 Nebraska 20, #19 Mizzou 13

You want tight losses?  The 1998 team had plenty to go around.  I have jokingly referred to the 1998 squad as the best 8-4 team of all-time, and this lists suggests that they are absolutely the best 8-4 Missouri team of all-time.  A team that basically came within three plays of a 1-loss season, and within about two plays of a North title, the Tigers put together all of the traits Larry Smith aimed for in a team -- bruising offense combined with physical, advantageous defense -- and punished teams all year long.  They only forgot one thing: special teams matters too.

Coming off of the 7-5 campaign of 1997, Mizzou was just outside of the Top 25 in the preseason polls. They quickly disposed of Bowling Green (37-0), and it was time to get some early revenge. In Lawrence the season before, Mizzou had driven deep into Kansas territory seemingly dozens of times without scoring, and they ended up losing, 15-7. In 1998, they left no doubt.

Mizzou not only avenged the 1997 loss, but thanks to Devin West's obscene 319 rushing yards, they also got a measure of revenge for the game Tony Sands had against them just a few years earlier.  With two stars in the backfield, 21st-ranked Mizzou headed to Columbus to take on #1 Ohio State.  It was their first trip to Columbus since their upset of the then-#2 Buckeyes in 1976, and for the first half of the game, it looked like another upset was in the works.   As would be the case all season, Mizzou's defense not only forced turnovers, but made the most of them.  A Harold Piersey fumble recovery set Mizzou up for a 10-yard Corby Jones touchdown run, and Mizzou took a lead into halftime after a bruising hit from Barry Odom separated Buckeyes quarterback Joe Germaine from the ball, and Carlos Posey returned the fumble 65 yards for a touchdown.  Mizzou was up 14-10 and believing in the upset.  Unfortunately, to beat the #1 team on the road, you need to be able to throw the ball a bit -- Corby Jones' passing line of 6-for-11 for 20 yards just couldn't cut it in the end.  Ohio State caught fire in the third quarter and pulled away for a 35-14 win, the only time all season Mizzou would lose by more than a touchdown.

Mizzou dispatched of Northwestern State with ease the next week, but it came at a cost -- an awkward tackle in the game left Jones fighting turf toe for much of the remainder of the season.  Mizzou moved to 5-1 with wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma -- Jones was limping badly, but Devin West and the play-making defense were still getting the job done.

Ranked 19th in the country, it was now time to go to Lincoln and get revenge on Nebraska for the 1997 game.  Injuries produced a defensive struggle -- with a gimpy Jones, the Mizzou offense managed only 166 yards; meanwhile, an inconsistent Nebraska offense was leaning on 13th-string quarterback, Monte Cristo.  Yes, his name was really Monte Cristo, and yes, the NU jumbotron did indeed show a cheesy graphic with him wearing a count's cape every time he did something well.  Down 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, Mizzou drove for the equalizer, hoping fate would be as kind to them as it was to Nebraska in Columbia the year before.  Yeah, right.  After a near-miss to John Dausman in the end zone, Mizzou's final shot was vanquished when Jones was sacked before he could attempt a miracle pass.  In a game full of fumbles and key special teams plays left and right (Mizzou blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown, while NU set up a score with a long punt return), one play could have made the difference.  Instead, Mizzou lost their 20th straight to the Huskers.

It wasn't all close losses in 1998, however -- Mizzou came up big in the clutch amid a Lubbock thunderstorm the next week.  Down 28-20 late, Texas Tech scored a touchdown, but the tying two-point conversion attempt was broken up by Harold Piersey, and Mizzou moved to 6-2 on the season.  At home against Colorado the next week, Mizzou scored on their opening series, then Carlos Posey intercepted a pass and took it 61 yards for a touchdown, giving Mizzou an almost immediate 14-0 lead; it would expand to 24-0 before Colorado woke up, and Mizzou ended up with a comfortable 38-14 win.  That left Mizzou staring at two games against Top 10 teams -- #6 Texas A&M on the road, and #2 Kansas State at home.  Win both, and they were going to the Big 12 title game ... and they came within about two plays of doing just that.

As maddening as the 2006 loss at A&M was to Mizzou fans, the 1998 game has it beaten in every regard.  This was the last great R.C. Slocum team, and just five years after losing 73-0 in College Station, Mizzou matched them blow-for-blow.  Against an Aggie defense that featured the likes of Dat Nguyen and Jason Webster, Devin West ran for over 100 yards, and the Tiger defense held the Aggies in check all game long.

Down 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Mizzou got a huge break ... the kind of break it takes to beat Top 10 teams on the road.  Driving for the tying score, Corby Jones threw an interception to safety Brandon Jennings, but Jennings botched an ill-conceived lateral during the return, and Mizzou recovered.  Given new life, Jones soon found Dwayne Blakley in the endzone, and the game was tied with under eight minutes remaining.  Mizzou forced a three-and-out, and it looked as if they would have a chance to drive for the winning score ... only, Randy Potter fumbled the ensuing punt at the MU 30 (Mizzou's second huge special teams gaffe, after a missed chipshot field goal in the third quarter), and A&M recovered.  The Aggies kicked the go-ahead field goal with just 1:30 left.  Mizzou desperately drove to the A&M 39, but freshman Brad Hammerich's 56-yard field goal attempt fell comically short, and Mizzou lost 17-14.

With the North title now out of reach, Mizzou only had revenge to play for in the season finale.  Kansas State was two games away from a berth in the Big 12 title game, and Mizzou could both quash those dreams and avenge an embarrassing 41-11 defeat from 1997 at the same time.  The crowd was ready -- Faurot Field was sold out.  And like every other game that season, things looked right at the midway point.  Kansas State jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but 13 points put Mizzou ahead at half; they led every game at halftime that season against a schedule that included four Top 10 teams.  Kansas State quickly surged ahead in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns and going up 24-13.  Plus, Devin West limped off the field with an ankle injury.  But while this team personified "one play away," there was no questioning their heart.  As they did all season, Mizzou bounced back.  Down 24-16, Jones found John Dausman (who had a career day -- six receptions for 169 yards) for a 20-yard touchdown.  The two-point conversion failed, and the score was 24-22.  It was 31-25 late in the game when KSU downed a punt at the 1-yard line (it's been 12 years since I witnessed that play, and I still swear it was touched by a guy in the endzone).  Needing a miracle finish, Mizzou drove into K-State territory, but Jones overthrew a wide open Kareem Wise deep, and he couldn't find Dausman on 4th-and-15.  K-State survived, and Mizzou was left with their fourth loss of the season, all to Top 10 teams, and three by the margin of basically one play.

Mizzou got a measure of redemption in the bowl game, sprinting out to a huge early lead against an explosive West Virginia team and holding off a late charge for a 34-31 win.  For the first time in three months, Jones looked to be at full-speed after the toe injury, and he and West were able to ride off into the sunset with Mizzou's first bowl win in 17 years.  But while the 1997 season was one of (mostly) exhilaration, 1998 was one of what-if's.  This was the best Mizzou squad since the 1960s, but all they had to show for it was an 8-4 record and a bit of regret.

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