October 20, 2001: Missouri 38, Kansas 34
When Missouri came back and won in the final minutes, I retired from ever making another trip to Lawrence. (That saved me all sorts of annoyance in 2003 and 2005.)
One of two crazy road wins from Pinkel's first season, this one may have been Kirk Farmer's most Kirk Farmer game. He completed 19 of 32 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Dwayne Blakely with 7:20 remaining. He also threw two pick sixes, one in the first quarter (which gave KU a 14-0 lead) and one in the third (which cut a 31-21 Mizzou lead to 31-27). Mizzou outgained the Jayhawks, 477-344, behind Zack Abron's 100 rushing yards and Justin Gage's 148 receiving yards. But the Tigers still figured out a way to trail until Blakely's touchdown and some late stops. It moved Mizzou to 3-3 in Pinkel's first season, but the Tigers would win just one of their final five games.
August 30, 2003: Missouri 22, Illinois 15
Some comebacks are more relieving than exhilarating. The 2003 season would eventually bring Mizzou its first bowl bid in five seasons, but it almost got off to an awful start. A year after getting completely torched by a redshirt freshman named Brad Smith, Illinois held Smith and the Mizzou offense in check. The Illini outgained Mizzou by a ridiculous 411-223 margin and took a 15-14 lead early in the fourth quarter after a six-yard touchdown pass from Jon Beutjer to Kelvin Hayden. The only reason it was still a game at all? Illinois had to settle for three field goals in the first three quarters. (Bend-don't-break in full effect, even then...)
Down a point with about 11 minutes to go, however, Mizzou relaxed and moved the ball. Smith found Zack Abron for 19 yards on third-and-11 to get the Tigers inside Illiois' 30, then Smith ran up the middle for 10 yards to the Illinois 3. With 4:12 left, Smith hit Darius Outlaw on a play-action touchdown pass, then took the two-point conversion attempt in himself.
The work wasn't done; after trading punts, Illinois got the ball back with two minutes left and drove to the Mizzou 23 before Nino Williams broke up passes on third and fourth downs to preserve a tighter-than-expected win.
September 20, 2003: Missouri 41, Middle Tennessee 40
This one managed to be both relieving and exhilarating. Mizzou was a three-touchdown favorite when MTSU came to town, but the Blue Raiders unleashed something the Tigers had never really dealt with before: a Hurry Up, No Huddle offense. When a play worked, MTSU would rush back to the line of scrimmage, get a call from the sideline, and run another play without letting Mizzou substitute. Wow, did it work. MTSU racked up 483 yards in 88 plays and went on a 24-7 run in the middle of the game.
Up 31-26 midway through the fourth quarter, MTSU had a chance to basically put the game away, earning a first-and-goal from the Mizzou 9. But three Kevin Davis rushes gained only five yards, and the Blue Raiders settled for a field goal. Given one last chance, Mizzou moved 73 yards in 11 plays; J.T. McCoy nearly tore his knee up reaching for a Brad Smith pass on fourth-and-2 from the Mizzou 35, but he came down with the ball. And with 1:17 left, Mizzou followed the same recipe from the Illinois game: Smith to Outlaw for the touchdown (12 yards), then Smith sneaking in for the two-point conversion.
In overtime, MTSU met a tragic end. The Blue Raiders needed just four plays to score a touchdown, putting up six points on a four-yard Andrico Hines touchdown run. But Brian Kelly, who had made two short field goals and four extra points on the day, missed the PAT. Smith scored from three yards out on Mizzou's possession, and Mike Matheny's extra point gave Mizzou an exhausting 41-40 win.
October 11, 2003: Missouri 41, Nebraska 24
Revenge is sweet. In 1999, we just knew Missouri was going to get revenge for the Flea Kicker, but instead we watched Ben Davidson become immortalized. We also watched Matt Davison score another damn touchdown. In 2001, we just knew Missouri was going to get revenge, but instead we watched Eric Crouch avoid a sack in his own end zone, then race about 104 yards for a touchdown. But in 2003, it happened. In a driving rainstorm, Missouri scored 27 fourth-quarter points, turning a 10-point deficit into a laugher. With Nebraska leading, 24-21, Missouri lined up to attempt a field goal to tie the game. I couldn’t watch, so I turned my back, only to hear my friend Seth scream, "Oh they faked it!" with a cracking voice. I turned around in time to see backup quarterback Sonny Riccio’s lob falling into tight end Victor Sesay’s arms in the end zone. I watched Missouri force a three-and-out, then score again, then pick off a pass and score again.
After the game, while rushing the field along with every other Mizzou fan in attendance, I grabbed Riccio while he was doing a postgame interview and screamed, "I love you SO MUCH." His response: "Thank you?" (Riccio transferred two months later. The commonly accepted reason was that he was going to be stuck behind quarterback Brad Smith on the depth chart for the rest of his career. But I knew the real reason.) I made snow angels (plastic pellet angels) on the 50-yard line with a friend. I bought the poster.
October 15, 2005: Missouri 27, Iowa State 24
For some reason, Missouri decided not to play the 2004 season. When they resumed their play in 2005, the Tigers found themselves on shaky ground. An early loss to New Mexico left them 3-2 after a tight win over Oklahoma State. With road trips looming against Kansas, Colorado, and Kansas State, Mizzou possibly needed to win out at home to be assured a second straight bowl bid (since, again, they didn't play football in 2004).
That was easier said than done. Two defensive touchdowns in one minute (a William Moore pick six and a Xzavie Jackson fumble return) gave Mizzou a quick 14-0 lead against Iowa State, but the Tiger offense was almost completely stagnant, and Iowa State scored 24 consecutive points. Ryan Kock's one-yard touchdown plunge gave ISU a 24-14 lead with 9:08 remaining, and when Brad Smith got hurt on the second play of the ensuing drive, all looked lost.
Enter Chase Daniel. The true freshman had played sparingly in 2005, but he was tasked with leading the Tigers on a dramatic comeback to save bowl eligibility, and he did just that. His first snap came on third-and-10 from the Mizzou 25, and he found Brad Ekwerekwu for 13 yards. He hit Chase Coffman for 25 yards on fourth-and-7, and he got Mizzou down to the ISU 2 before the Tigers settled for a field goal.
ISU went three-and-out but pinned Mizzou at its 12 with just 2:32 remaining. No problem. Daniel hit Sean Coffey for 20 yards and Coffman for 14. Coffey drew a pass interference penalty, then Daniel found Will Franklin for 14 yards and Coffey for 17 to get to the ISU 4. Coffey made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone with 20 seconds left, and Mizzou had tied the game.
Shell-shocked, ISU went three-and-out in overtime, and Bret Culbertson missed a 43-yard field goal wide right. Five plays later, Adam Crossett came in for a 26-yard field goal and the win.
December 30, 2005: Missouri 38, South Carolina 31
Yeah, I think you probably remember this one, too. It kind of saved the Gary Pinkel era.
A quarter-and-a-half into the Independence Bowl, it seems like the game was just a formality and a coronation of a new SEC power. Faster and physically dominant, the 'Cocks were about to go up 28-0...only Mitchell threw his first bad pass of the game, and Marcus King made an easy pick. With a convoy ahead of him, he took it 99 yards for a TD, and it was 21-7. It was a mere speedbump, however, as South Carolina responded with a 7-play, 64-yard TD drive, and it was 28-7. After a trade of punts, Mizzou got the ball with 1:53 left in the first half, and it was time for Brad Smith to knock the shackles off of the Mizzou offense.
A 23-yard pass to Martin Rucker. A 10-yarder to Tommy Saunders. A gorgeous 31-yarder to Will Franklin. A 5-yard fade route TD to Chase Coffman. With 0:14 left in Q2, it was 28-14, Mizzou was getting the ball to start the second half, and we had ourselves a ballgame after all. But Mizzou wasn't through with the setbacks yet. A methodical 8-minute drive ended with Adam Crossett missing a chipshot FG. Mizzou was still down 14 with 22 minutes left.
As night began to fall over lovely Shreveport, Louisiana, Mizzou forced a punt and took over at their 15 with 5:00 left in Q3. This is where things started happening quickly. A 30-yard pass to Coffman and a 32-yard run by #16 quickly made things 28-21. Then Derrick Ming intercepted Mitchell. Another 2-minute TD drive ended with a 4-yard TD run by Bad Brad on 4th down. Tie game. Three-and-out by South Carolina. A 50-yard FG by Adam "boom or bust" Crossett. Suddenly, despite a long bout with offensive ineptitude and numerous crippling setbacks, Mizzou was up 31-28 with 10 minutes left.
But South Carolina managed to get off the mat themselves. A 13-play, 6:00 drive got them in FG range, and a Josh Brown chip shot tied the game at 31-31. In response, Brad Smith ripped off a 60-yard run to the SC 18. Three plays later, it was another TD for #16, and with 2:05 left, Mizzou was up 38-31. In the last 30 minutes of play, Mizzou had outscored the Gamecocks 31-3, and that was despite the scoreless 7-minute drive to start the second half.
After a nice kickoff return, SC quickly had the ball back in Mizzou territory with 90 seconds left, but sophomore Darnell Terrell jumped a slant route and picked off Mitchell's final pass of the evening, and it was over. What seemed like the stage for a coronation a couple hours earlier had turned into Gary Pinkel's finest hour. Missouri had not only pulled themselves off the mat, but they had registered a knockout blow of their own. And Pinkel had outdueled The Ol' Ball Coach.