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Mizzou's Greatest, #105: Mizzou 41, Kansas State 38 (1969)

It was the biggest game to date in the MU-KSU rivalry, and it more than lived up to expectations.


Sometimes games aren't great because of any long-term significance; sometimes they're just great because they're great. Missouri's 41-38 win over Kansas State in 1969 wasn't earth-shattering from a national perspective, and it didn't do much to change either teams' fortunes beyond that November. But it is difficult to find someone who watched or attended this game that doesn't rate it as one of the best they've ever seen.

Granted, the game still had plenty of immediate importance. On November 1, 1969, Missouri was 14th in the country. Before the previous week's trip to Boulder, this was shaping up to be one of the greatest seasons in Mizzou history. A rough upset loss to Colorado had knocked the Tigers from fifth to 14th, but this had still been an incredible season to date. Following a near-upset at the hands of Air Force, salvaged by a late, long completion and field goal, Mizzou caught fire.

This near-miss succeeded in providing a "scared straight" moment for the Tigers. After pummeling Illinois, 37-6, at Busch Stadium (Joe Moore rushed for 191 yards), the schedule got much more difficult, and Mizzou was ready. No. 9 Mizzou headed to the Big House to face No. 13 Michigan, and they won in a massacre. The third game of Bo Schembechler's Michigan career was, as he put it, "a nightmare, and I wouldn't have believed it unless I was there." Mizzou forced four turnovers in the second quarter alone (Dennis Poppe was responsible for two), and after two short touchdowns by Ron McBride and Jon Staggers, Mizzou put the game out of reach late in the first half when, after three great passes, McBride scored from one yard to get Mizzou a startling 24-3 halftime lead. Michigan cut the lead to 24-17 in the third quarter, but Mizzou's Mike Bennett blocked a Wolverine punt early in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal, then Joe Moore ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run. Mizzou won 40-17 -- an unheard-of margin against a Schembechler team -- and moved to 7th in the AP poll. [...]

Now fifth in the polls, Mizzou was starting to sniff a title opportunity. Of their remaining opponents, only No. 11 Oklahoma and (surprisingly) No. 18 Kansas State were ranked, and two of the four teams above the Tigers in the polls -- No. 2 Texas and No. 4 Arkansas -- would have to play each other at the end of the season. If they could keep winning, they would find themselves with a wonderful shot at the title that eluded them in 1960.

Unfortunately, like so many other Mizzou teams over the years, the Tigers couldn't avoid that single landmine. This season, it came in the form of a seemingly humdrum trip to Boulder. Colorado was 3-2, though both losses were quite respectable -- they had lost at Penn State (who would finish 11-0) and at Oklahoma. They would go on to win five of six to end the season, finishing 8-3 with a Liberty Bowl win over Alabama; but nobody knew any of that at the time. This seemed like a tough-but-winnable game. It was not. Colorado's Bob Anderson rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, becoming CU's all-time rushing and scoring leader in the process; meanwhile, Joe Moore, 4th-leading rusher in the country at the time, managed just 11 first-half yards. The Buffaloes built a 24-10 halftime lead, but Mizzou would bounce back. A 1-yard McMillan sneak got Mizzou to within seven, and a 13-yard McMillan-to-John Henley pass tied the game. National title contenders often have to survive a harrowing road trip like this one, and it looked like Mizzou might have enough juice to take the game. But Anderson scored a second touchdown, and with Mizzou consistently threatening, the Buffs intercepted two late passes to win a heartbreaker, 31-24.

Following the heart-breaker, Mizzou returned home to face a Kansas State team that was experiencing nearly unprecedented success. The Wildcats were 5-1 and their only loss was a three-point defeat at the hands of the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions, a team that would go on to finish undefeated (and beat Missouri in the Orange Bowl). They had entered the AP Top 25 for the first time ever the week before, and they had responded with a 59-21 massacre of No. 11 Oklahoma in Manhattan. They were now No. 12 with a bullet, enjoying their best season ever. A win at Mizzou would likely propel them to the Orange Bowl, and at the very least they were staring their first ever bowl bid in the face. (Seriously, Kansas State had one of the worst histories in FBS before Bill Snyder. Mizzou has had some iffy decades; K-State had an iffy first century of existence.)

KSU was led by an explosive offense quarterbacked by eventual Green Bay Packer all-pro Lynn Dickey. The Wildcats had scored at least 34 points in four of six games and were averaging 41.2 points per game against teams not named Penn State. Again, this was 1969. That would be the equivalent of averaging about 50 points per game (or more, even) today.

Of course, Mizzou wasn't exactly chopped liver in the offense department. The Tigers had, after all, scored 40 points on Bo Schembechler. The table was set for an offensive shootout.

The result was one of the most exciting games in Missouri's history. Our friend OKCtiger called it the best game he ever attended.

1. No. 14 Mizzou 41, No. 12 Kansas State 38 (November 1, 1969). This is, without a doubt, the greatest game I have witnessed. Terry McMillan and the Tigers verses Lynn Dickey and the Wildcats. McMillan and Dickey were two of the best quarterbacks in the country, and both had great receivers, including Mizzou’s Mel Gray and John Henley. WIth McMillan throwing and running backs Joe Moore and Jon Staggers eating up yardage on the ground, Mizzou gained 664 yards of total offense to KSU's 636. Staggers had a 96-yard kickoff return, threw for a touchdown, and caught a touchdown pass. McMillan and Dickey punched and counter-punched all day. An interception of Dickey with under a minute left sealed the victory for Mizzou.

From Bob Broeg's Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football:

At half time Mizzou led comfortably, 21-6, and even after the Wildcats used a long pass for a score in the third period, Staggers immediately zipped [96] yards on a kickoff return to reinstate what seemed a commanding 28-12 lead.

But at the end of the third quarter Kansas State did in exactly seven seconds what once took entire games. That is, score twice on Missouri. Just after the climax of an 80-yard drive, K-State lined up to kick off. Kicker Max Arreguin bent over as if to tie his shoelace. As he did, Missouri relaxed. Rushing up from an angle Wildcat Bob Scott slanted an onside kick recovered by teammate Mike Kuhn at the MU 37.

On the first play Dickey hit Charley Collins in the end zone to reduce Missouri's lead to four points. Moments later the fired-up Purple Pride of Coach Vince Gibson surged 80 yards in four plays. Kansas State led, 31-28.

Mizzou responded with two touchdowns to take a 41-31 lead, but Kansas State came right back.

With the Black and Gold's defensive secondary injury-riddled -- George Fountain limping, Butch Davis dizzy, and Pete Buha out with a knee injury -- Dickey fired back for another score with 7:23 left. But the Missouri defensive line, weary from pursuing Dickey, forced the passing whiz to fumble. Co-captain Sam Adams recovered. Then in the final minute Jerry Boyd turned in the Tigers' third interception. Final score: Missouri 41, Kansas State 38.

Like a great boxing match, the epic battle had a lasting impact. Mizzou immediately fell behind, 10-0, against Oklahoma the next week before rallying. (And rally they did: After the 10-0 deficit, they would outscore OU, Iowa State, and Kansas by a combined 153-34. The Tigers would go on to win the Big 8 and face Penn State in the Orange Bowl.) But for Kansas State, the damage lasted longer. The Wildcats lost at Oklahoma State the next week, then finished the season with losses to Nebraska and smoking-hot colorado. Early in the fourth quarter in Columbia, Kansas State looked like the likely Big 8 champion. Just over three games later, the Wildcats were 5-5 and missed the postseason altogether. This classic both more-or-less decided the Big 8 and dramatically changed the course of the season for both teams.