7. Football: Mizzou 38, South Carolina 31 (2005)
Here's what I wrote about this win back in the summer's Greatest Win competition. Since it pretty much summarizes everything I could think to say about it, let's just recycle.
Whereas I would normally poo-poo a bowl result, good or bad (it's just one game, it doesn't affect recruiting, it doesn't make a season successful or unsuccessful), it's impossible to shoo away the importance of this one. After a crushingly disappointing 2004 season that saw Missouri fall from 8-5 to 5-6, Mizzou did improve in 2005, but barely. A ho-hum season, complete with big offensive numbers, a loss to New Mexico, and a third straight loss to Kansas, had done little to excite the fanbase, and from the start of this game it looked like Missouri had no interest being on the field.
Ten minutes into the game, the score was 21-0 SC. The Gamecocks had run 16 plays for 169 yards. Mizzou: 7 plays for -10. SC had executed flawlessly with three easy touchdown drives, meanwhile, Mizzou was killing themselves with fumbles, penalties, and downright listless play.
In the second quarter, Mizzou began to right the ship. They forced a punt on SC's first Q2 possession, but with seven minutes left in the half SC was driving again. They were to the MU 16, threatening to go up 28-0, when Marcus King picked off a pass at the Mizzou goal line and returned it 99 yards for a score. The Cocks immediately drove for another touchdown, but when Brad Smith found Chase Coffman for a fade route score with :20 left in the first half, Mizzou had at least a glimmer of hope. They were within reach (28-14) but still had a long ways to go.
The road got tougher when Mizzou executed a pragmatic, 19-play, 7-minute drive to start the second half, but Adam Crossett missed a 22-yard FG, and the score remained 28-14. But with Martin Rucker on the sidelines, exhorting whoever would listen to follow him to victory, things started happening. Mizzou got the ball back, and Smith scored up the middle from 31 yards out to make it 28-21. Then after a fingertip, off-the-shoelaces interception by Derrick Ming, Smith scored again on the second play of the fourth quarter. Somehow, this game was tied.
Less than five minutes later, after another South Carolina punt, Crossett got his chance to atone for the earlier miss. In pure Crossett fashion (he was maddeningly inconsistent at the chippies, but super-clutch), he boomed a 50-yarder for a 31-28 lead. South Carolina would tie the game at 31-31, setting the stage for one of Smith's most memorable plays.
With 4:16 left in the game, Smith rolled left and found no one open. He bobbed back toward the middle of the field, weaved around a couple of tacklers, and then burst to the left at a diagonal. Fifty-nine yards later, he was brought down. From there it took just four plays for Smith to score the go-ahead TD. SC drove to midfield, but Darnell Terrell picked off Mitchell's final pass, clinching the most exhilarating of wins.
To update the last thing I wrote in that post, one game sometimes gets too much credit, good or bad, but the facts are this: midway through the second quarter, Mizzou was reeling as a program. Since the comeback, Mizzou has gone 38-16. Martin Rucker took charge of the team on the sideline and eventually helped lead them to a 12-2 season in 2007. Brad Smith's career was somewhat frustrating and up-and-down, but his final moment in a Mizzou uniform may have served as the program's greatest catalyst. For all we know, Mizzou might have thrived just the same in 2006-09 without this win, but forgive me if I'd rather not have to find out.