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The Greatest Win - 1976-2000 Regional Final

The Greatest Win in Mizzou History

Greatest Win in Mizzou History Bracket

1976-2000 Region

Regional Finals

Two great wins...from the same season.

Mizzou 35, Nebraska 31
Mizzou 35, Alabama 10
November 18, 1978
Lincoln, NE
Memorial Stadium
December 28, 1968
Jacksonville, FL
Gator Bowl

Significance: After years of working in the shadows of both predecessor Bob Devaney and OU coach Barry Switzer, Nebraska's Tom Osborne has positioned his Huskers for a shot at the national title in 1978, having knocked off Oklahoma and needing only a win over Missouri to play for the national title. But Warren Powers' Tigers would pull off an upset in one of the most well-played, exciting games in Mizzou history. With wind chill near zero, in front of 75,000+, both teams threw haymakers all game long.

On the first play of the game, NU's speedy Rick Berns raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Mizzou responded with a 9-yarder by James Wilder. Led by Berns again, NU struck right back to go up 14-7 and quickly added a field goal to take what looked to be a double-digit lead into halftime. But as they would all game, Mizzou responded. On their last first-half drive, Wilder was dominant, accounting for half the drive's yardage. Phil Bradley found a tiptoeing Kellen Winslow in the front corner of the endzone, and the score was a much more manageable 17-14 at intermission.

NU bumped the lead back to ten on a 2-yard run by Berns, but they couldn't shake the Tigers. A powerful, long Mizzou drive led to another Wilder touchdown. 24-21. Then linebacker Chris Garlich, playing the game of his life, picked off a pass at the NU 31. A long run by Phil Bradley set up a short Wilder touchdown, and Mizzou led, but not for long. A long drive by NU put them back on top, 31-28, heading into the fourth quarter.

What followed was one of Mizzou's greatest drives:

  • James Wilder 2-yard run
  • Gerry Ellis pounds up the gut for 11
  • Option pitch to Wilder, who is hit and fumbles...the ball rolls forward and out of bounds
  • Wilder straight ahead for six yards and a first down
  • Kellen Winslow seam route for 33 yards
  • Wilder straight ahead for 8
  • Wilder literally shoves a tackler aside, pounds ahead into the endzone (Mizzou's color commentator: "DID YOU SEE THAT?? DID YOU SEE HIM?? DID YOU SEE HIM TAKE THAT MAN AND THROW HIM DOWN??)

Wilder's vicious touchdown gave Mizzou a four-point lead, and with 3:40 left, it was up to Mizzou's defense to hold on. They did just that. NU advanced into Mizzou territory but failed to convert on fourth down from the Mizzou 33.

When all was said and done, Mizzou had knocked off #2 Nebraska in Lincoln, ruined NU's title hopes, and locked down a bowl bid to boot--they would beat LSU in the Liberty Bowl.

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.

Aftermath: This was the high point in the Warren Powers tenure. Mizzou would field a competitive program for a few more years, winning more than they lost, but there was never another moment like this one. This game was memorable not only because it was a win over a top NU team in Lincoln, but because it was so unbelievably well-played. Gripping from start to finish. (This game would take on added significance when Mizzou decided to go 25 more years before beating Nebraska again.)

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.