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1972: The Rebound (Part Two)

For other seasons, go here.

Part One

When we last checked in with the 1972 Tigers, they had already doubled their 1971 wins just three games into the season.  The wishbone offense was still working out some kinks--inconsistency, too many fumbles--and the defense had suffered letdowns of their own, but they were 2-1 regardless.  For their fourth game, they were off to Stillwater.

October 7: Mizzou (2-1) at Oklahoma State (2-1)

In 1972, OSU was in its first (and only) year led by Dave Smith.  At the end of the season, he would move on to take the SMU job.  The OSU program had been pretty stagnant as a whole--from 1964 to 1971, the Cowboys had won between three and five games every season--but they were showing some energy under Gass.  They would end up 6-5 in 1972, their first winning season since 1959.

Not surprisingly, two decent teams learning how to win would put up a pretty good fight against each other.  In fact, the entire game came down to one play: a fourth-and-28 play for OSU from their own 46.  Sounds advantageous for Mizzou, right?

Thanks to a series of timely fumble recoveries and strong kicking from Greg Hill, Mizzou kept things close in the first half despite OSU dictating the tempo.  Three Hill boots kept the score at 10-9 for OSU at the break.  Cowboy quarterback Brent Blackmon's 107 rushing yards allowed the 'Pokes to control the issue, but Mizzou kept taking advantage of every mistake.  Blackmon fumbled deep in OSU territory in Q3, and a Bill Zeigler touchdown run gave Mizzou a 16-10 lead.  Zeigler was in the game because pretty much everybody in the Mizzou backfield got hurt...even, eventually, Zeigler, who hyperextended his elbow.  Ray Bybee hurt his knee, Chuck Link separated his shoulder, and Mark Johnston injured his knee.

But even with an ineffective offense--the only time Mizzou scored was when fumble recoveries gave them a break--the lead held up.  OSU got the ball back for one last shot, but after advancing into Mizzou territory, they retreated and ended up facing the aforementioned fourth-and-28 with 1:38 remaining.  Naturally, that situation favors the defense.  But OSU WR Steve Pettes ran the flag-post route to beat all flag-post routes, completely fooling Mizzou's best corner, John Moseley, and the unexpected occurred--not only did Pettes get the first down, but he stormed all the way to the endzone.  OSU picked off a pass on Mizzou's desperation drive to end the game, and after getting by with smoke and mirrors all night, Mizzou suffered a crushing loss.

A physically battered team now had to overcome both injury and devastation...and in seven days they would have to travel to Lincoln to face their first of three consecutive Top 10 teams.  Bad combination.

Oklahoma State 17, Mizzou 16

October 14: Mizzou (2-2) at #6 Nebraska (3-1)

There have been plenty of blowouts in the Mizzou-Nebraska series.  From 1911 to 1922, NU uncorked three pretty bad ones (34-0 in 1911, 52-0 in 1917, 48-0 in 1922).  Mizzou came back with a few of their own in the 1940s and '50s (54-20 in 1943, 47-6 in 1947, 31-0 in 1958).  NU came back in 1966 (35-0) and the year previous, 1971 (36-0).  And of course, we know what happened in the 1980s and 1990s when, between 1986 and 1996, NU won by at least 30 nine times in 11 years, including the epic 57-0 disaster in Corby Jones's freshman year.

(Plus, Mizzou's won the last two by 30+ as well.  Just thought I'd mention that.)

So why am I bringing up these blowout losses?  Because none of them were any worse than what happened in Lincoln in 1971.  A year removed from one of their best teams ever, the 1971 national champions, Nebraska was once again stout.  In the three games since a 20-17 loss to UCLA to start the season, the Huskers had outscored Texas A&M, Army and Minnesota by a combined 163-14.  They would outscore Mizzou and their next two opponents (Kansas, Oklahoma State) 152-0.  Add that up: that's a six-game span with a score of 315-14.  Oy.

Naturally, the demoralized Tigers were no competition.  They put up a bit of a fight for a while--I'm not going to say "It started well enough," but it was only 7-0 after one quarter.  It was 14-0 when Mizzou QB Tony Gillick, splitting time with the ineffective John Cherry, laid down a costly fumble that led to another quick NU score; the Huskers took an easy but not embarrassing 21-0 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.

And then the third quarter happened.  Six minutes in--after a quick TD drive, a great punt return by Johnny Rodgers, and an interception of Cherry--it was 42-0.  Then 48-0.  Then, with NU's backups in, 55-0.  And finally 62-0.  NU's starters came out midway through the third quarter, but Mizzou just kept handing them the ball.  Husker quarterback David Humm completed 15 passes for 267 yards, NU rushed for (only!) 215 yards, and Mizzou's incompetent offense kept handing them short fields.  Bad, bad, bad.  Mizzou was now 2-3 with two more games versus Top 10 teams to go.  Next up: a trip to South Bend.

Nebraska 62, Mizzou 0


October 21: Mizzou (2-3) at #8 Notre Dame (4-0)

Imagine the level of dread for Mizzou fans at this point.  Mizzou had gone 1-10 in 1971 and was now only 2-3 in 1972.  They had just suffered their worst loss in the history of the Mizzou-Nebraska series.  The backfield, clearly vital in a wishbone offense, was banged up beyond recognition--backs Ray Bybee, Chuck Link, and Bruce Berry were out.  Neither quarterback--John Cherry or Tony Gillick--was providing much value or leadership.  The defense was suffering lapses that few Mizzou defenses had in the last 20-25 years.  The hope was quickly fading from the season.

A pre-game Missourian cartoon.  Optimism, uhh, wasn't high.

Now Mizzou had to travel to South Bend, where they were 35-point underdogs to the host Irish, a team that would go on to face Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.  They had the nation's #5 offense and #2 defense, ready to shut down Mizzou's wishbone with perhaps the best defensive line in the country.  They had not given up a first-half touchdown all year.

On a cold, foggy afternoon in Indiana, with a banged-up, thin lineup, all Missouri did was play their most perfect game. 

Bob Pankey intercepted Notre Dame QB Tom Clements on the opening drive, and Cherry executed a perfect 12-play, 46-yard drive, capped by a 16-yard Leroy Moss touchdown run.  Notre Dame responded with a 66-yard touchdown drive of their own, and after one quarter, it was 7-7.

The suddenly-potent Mizzou offense (where did this come from??) came right back.  Cherry found Jim Sharp for 32 yards highlighted a drive that almost stalled at the ND 1; on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Don Johnson plunged in to give Mizzou a 14-7 lead.  Again, the Irish responded, this time with an 81-yard touchdown drive.  How long could the Tiger offense keep up with a more potent attack?  Long enough, apparently.  Capping off a first half in which they controlled the ball for over 20 minutes and rushed for over 120 yards, Cherry hit big passes to freshman Henry Marshall (18 yards) and Bill Zeigler (31 yards), and Johnson plunged in again from a yard out; the 35-point underdogs would head into halftime with a 21-14 lead.

Surely the heavy favorites would come storming out of the gates in the second half, right?  One would think so, but no.  Two minutes into the third quarter, the Irish muffed a Jack Bastable punt, setting Mizzou up at the ND 38.  The next play, Cherry found Bastable (love the dual-threat WR-punter) for 30 yards to set up a Greg Hill field goal.  A poor snap led to an ugly, low kick...but it just passed over the crossbar.  24-14 Mizzou.  Notre Dame responded by...fumbling the ensuing kickoff.  Mizzou's Roger Yanko recovered at the ND 20.  The Tigers advanced to the 3-yard line, but on fourth down Onofrio decided he had taken enough risks on fourth down already and sent on Hill once again.  This time the field goal was perfect.  27-14 Mizzou.

Notre Dame fumbled the kickoff AGAIN, but this time they recovered, and it was time for the comeback charge.  Or not.  John Moseley deflected a third-down pass, and the Irish had to punt.  Thanks to nice running by Cherry, Mizzou once again advanced inside the Notre Dame redzone, but they dropped the dagger.  They had to settle for a 25-yard field goal attempt; once again there was a bad snap, and Hill couldn't get a kick off.  Mizzou's lead remained less than 14 points, but the Tiger defense continued to step up.

Mizzou had the ball when the fourth quarter began, and Tommy Reamon, who had to date had a relatively disappointing first season at Mizzou--his JUCO All-American credentials had suggested much more of an immediate impact--broke loose...almost.  A 29-yard gain was almost a 78-yard touchdown, bt he was tripped up.  A huge pass interference penalty, however, prolonged Mizzou's drive.  Yet another Hill field goal made the score 30-14 with 10:13 left in the game.

Everybody in the stadium (and back home in Columbia) was expecting an Irish charge that hadn't come yet.  Finally, however, it came.  Clements scored on a 13-yard keeper to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive.  Moseley tipped away a two-point conversion attempt, however, and that was huge.  The score was 30-20 Mizzou; it was still a two-possession lead.

Mizzou's following drive was quckly quashed, and Notre Dame got the ball back with 5:44 left.  They drove into Mizzou territory but faced a fourth-and-18 from the MU 49.  As in the tough Oklahoma State loss, Mizzou's defense caved, giving up a 36-yard completion.  Two plays later, Notre Dame scored.  For some reason, they went for two again (guess they weren't playing for the tie), and once again they were stopped.  It was 30-24 with 4:10 remaining.  The Irish had to use their remaining timeouts, but they once again got the ball back following a Bastable punt with just 2:26 remaining.  They had to move 87 yards for the win, but I would say that most fans assumed they would.

They wouldn't.  Clements went for wideout Darryll Dewan flying down the left sideline, but Mizzou corner Mike Fink got there in time; he picked off the pass and returned it 29 yards to ND's 29.  From there, a series of Cherry keepers ran out the clock.

Words like "miracle" are probably thrown around too much, to the point that they lose some of their impact.  But if you're ever going to use that word to describe a sporting event, now's a pretty good time.  When Missouri played Nebraska in 1997 and almost won, they were 28-point underdogs.  This Missouri team, playing this Notre Dame team, was an even bigger underdog.  In a hostile road environment, in strange weather, it was the Irish who had blinked--with four turnovers to Mizzou's zero--and the Tigers who had executed perfectly when necessary.  The Mizzou offensive line had played wonderfully, controlling the action against a great Notre Dame defensive front; Mizzou had rushed for 223 yards, and their four pass completions went for another 106.  They had played wonderfully, and they had saved Al Onofrio's second season.  They were welcomed home at the airport by 300 fans; the turnaround had begun.

Mizzou 30, Notre Dame 26


October 28: #7 Colorado (6-1) at Mizzou (3-3)

Tommy Reamon dives to paydirt.

Through all the excitement of the previous week's season-saving win, a shadow loomed.  Missouri would have to turn around and play great again to avoid falling right back below .500.  The Buffs had shot into the Top 10 following a 20-14 upset of #2 Oklahoma the previous week, OU's only loss of 1972.  They came to Columbia 6-1, with only a strange 31-6 loss to OSU marring a perfect record.  Colorado was playing wonderfully under Eddie Crowder, who had taken over a rather moribund program in 1963 and slowly worked toward success.  The Buffs had gone 10-2 in 1971 and now were looking even stronger.

It was Homecoming at Ol' Mizzou, and an energized fanbase stuck over 55,500 butts in the seats.  Injuries would once again play a role--Mizzou's Leroy Moss, who had scored the first touchdown against Notre Dame, pulled a hamstring and was out, added to the long injury list in Mizzou's backfield.  Meanwhile, CU's great junior back Charlie Davis had fallen into a television truck (???) against Oklahoma and was gimpy with an injured shoulder.

Things started well for Mizzou.  They avoided an early hangover in a scoreless first quarter, and they surged forward in the second.  A long Jimmy Smith run set up a Greg Hill field goal, and then Scott Pickens recovered a bad option pitch, setting up a 20-yard screen pass to Tommy Reamon, then a 1-yard Reamon touchdown dive. At halftime, it was 10-0 Mizzou, and the crowd was getting.

Things would start to pucker up a bit in the third quarter.  Colorado marched down and scored to open the half; Davis went in from three yards out.  CU's Steve Haggerty then returned a Jack Bastable punt 40 yards to set up another Colorado score; a nice third-down defensive play by Mike Fink made sure that the score was a field goal instead of a touchdown, and heading into the fourth quarter it was 10-10 with Mizzou driving.

Two Cherry passes to Bastable got Mizzou rolling to start the final 15 minutes.  From the CU 7, the Buffs bought on a play-fake to Reamon, and Cherry found Jim Sharp for a go-ahead touchdown.  CU's offense was rolling by this point, however.  With 7:43 left, Bo Matthews scored from a yard out, and the Tigers and Buffs headed down the stretch tied at 17-17.

Thanks to solid performances from Reamon and the offensive line, Cherry was starting to come into his own.  After the Tigers scored only two touchdowns in ten quarters between the Cal and Nebraska games, they had put up 30 points against Notre Dame, and after three scoring drives against Colorado (who had held OU to 14 points the week before), they rolled toward a fourth.  With under 2:00 left, Hill lined up for a chip-shot, 22-yard go-ahead field goal.  Hill had been clutch all year; the snap was great, the hold was great...and Hill missed.  Granted, a tie wouldn't be the end of the world against such a good team, but the miss was still disappointing.  However, Mizzou wasn't done.

Colorado went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and John Moseley fair caught a CU punt at the Mizzou 45.  After Cherry overthrew a wide-open Sharp streaking down the sideline, he responded with a tough 17-yard run.  Two straight, first down runs by Reamon gave Hill one more chance to win the game with 0:06 left.  I'll let the following pictures tell you what happened.

Hill's second game-winning kick of the season (he had beaten Oregon in Week 1) gave Mizzou not only a 4-3 record, but also back-to-back wins over Top 10 teams.  Not only had Mizzou's 1972 season been on the verge of collapse just eight days earlier, but so was Al Onofrio's coaching tenure at Mizzou.  Losses to Notre Dame and Colorado would have put Mizzou at 2-5, 3-15 in Onofrio's year-and-a-half in Columbia.  But the Tigers had risen off the mat, and as October turned into November, Mizzou now had the pursuit of a bowl game to push them through the final month.

Mizzou 20, Colorado 17


Next up: Fiesta time.