Once more: This is a look at 20 games in which a) the combined quality of Missouri and its opponent was really, really high (they're ranked in order of combined S&P+ percentile ratings), and b) Mizzou won.
Now that we've looked at Win No. 1, we're backing up and taking a journey through the silliness that was the 1976 season as a whole. Following the huge win over USC, Mizzou laid the biggest egg imaginable in falling 31-6 to Illinois. Now it was time to head to Columbus to face the No. 2 team in the country. (Once again, we'll build off of a previous RMN piece.)
History + Stats
Of all the amazing upsets, Mizzou's late-September 1976 win in Columbus had to be considered the least likely. Ohio State was ranked 2nd in the country and had just beaten No. 7 Penn State in Happy Valley. Meanwhile, after drubbing a Top 10 USC team on the road, Mizzou had lost QB Steve Pisarkiewicz and been pummeled, 31-6, by a mediocre Illinois team at home the preceding week.
Mustachioed backup Pete Woods would see his first career start in front of the third-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history (87,936), against a team that had won 25 straight homes games.
From the Kansas City Star the day of the game:
For Missouri, a team that travels to Columbus, Ohio, to play before more than 87,000 Buckeye-crazed fans, the change at quarterback is a necessity because of an injury to Steve Pisarkiewicz, the starting M.U. quarterback ... because of a sore right shoulder, an injury that occurred in practice prior to the opening game against Southern California. The Mizzou starting quarterback will be Pete Woods, a junior who a week ago was still considered a red-shirt prospect in 1976.
"Steve is the kind of guy who comes along once in a great while," said Coach Al Onofrio of Missouri, "and to have him hurt like that is really disappointing. He hasn't been full speed, but that's football."
"I have confidence in Pete," Onofrio said of his new quarterback. "Pete has good ability. He hasn't got a lot of game experience, but he is a good football player.
"You do the only thing you can do," the coach continued. "You try to prepare the team the best way possible."
Ohio State had begun the season ranked fourth in the country; Woody Hayes' Buckeyes were in the middle of an incredible run. Since 1968, they had finished in the top five six times in eight years and attended six Rose Bowls. They won the 1968 national title and had gone 33-3-1 since the start of 1973. They had moved up to No. 2 in the country thanks to a thrashing of Michigan State and a 12-7 road win over No. 7 Penn State the week before.
The OSU-PSU and MU-Illinois results, combined with Pisarkiewicz's injury, suggested this wouldn't be much of a game, and things went according to plan early. Buckeye linebacker Nick Buonamici tipped and intercepted a Woods pass, setting up a Pete Johnson touchdown that gave OSU a comfortable 21-7 halftime lead. Woods had hit Joe Stewart for a 31-yard score to keep Mizzou within striking distance, but Johnson's 103 yards and three scores were the difference.
But the Mizzou defense stiffened. OSU would gather just 82 yards of offense in the second half (Johnson had just 19). After Big Play Chris Garlich intercepted a pass near midfield early in the third quarter, Mizzou's Curtis Brown scored from four yards out to cut the lead to 21-14.
From there, it became a battle of punting units; Woody Hayes was as conservative as they come, and in assuming that eventually his players would execute well enough to win, he took few chances. On the other sideline, Onofrio was not interested in handing the game to Ohio State either. It was a staring contest -- who would make the first mistake? -- and Ohio State uncharacteristically blinked first.
Missouri would miss a field goal midway through the fourth quarter, but when Tiger end Blaine Henningsen tackled OSU quarterback Rod Gerald for a third-down loss with about five minutes left in the game, OSU was forced to punt.
A previously boisterous crowd was starting to get anxious. Meanwhile, Mizzou settled down ... almost too much. The were still only around midfield as the clock ticked under two minutes. They dodged a bullet when Woods was sacked and fumbled; Brown recovered the fumble after a big loss, but Ohio State was called for holding on the play, and Mizzou got a first down at the OSU 44 with under 90 seconds left.
After a short rush by Brown and a Woods incompletion -- he was hit as the threw and came up shaking his arm a bit -- it was third-and-6 from the 40. And just as the announcer was saying "If Missouri has a big play in its arsenal, it could use it right here," Brown took a pitch to the right, then darted up field and ran through four tackles for a gorgeous 31-yard gain.
Suddenly, with about a minute left in the game, Mizzou had a first-and-goal.
In the mid-1970s, a home crowd could be penalized for making too much noise as the visiting team's QB was attempting to bark out signals. Woods repeatedly asked for help from the officials, and it raised both the decibel level and Hayes' hackles.
On first-and-goal, Woods squirmed to the Ohio State 3 on an option keeper, and with 30 seconds left, Woods once again got the officials to stop the clock to quiet the crowd down.
On second down, Brown got within about a yard and a half of the end zone, the last of his 108 rushing yards. Timeout, 16 seconds left.
On third down, with 20 of 22 players lined up in the box -- Mizzou had two backs and two tight ends -- Woods dropped back and lobbed the ball to Leo Lewis. Lewis caught the ball, got two feet down in the end zone, and then immediately lost the ball. By the official's definition, it was a catch. Touchdown, Mizzou.
Without hesitation, Onofrio decided to go for the win. Under pressure while rolling right, Woods attempted to lob the ball to Brown. The ball fell incomplete, but there was a flag on the play: An Ohio State defender had grabbed Brown's shoulder as the ball flew overhead. Defensive holding.
On the second attempt, Woods kept the ball, evaded two tacklers and lunged into the endzone. After getting dominated for most of the first half, Mizzou had straight-up stolen a one-point win in Columbus.
Greeted by 800 fans at the Columbia airport, Onofrio told reporters, "Looking back on all the football games Missouri has played, I'd say this has to be the greatest football game Missouri has ever played under the conditions." With a backup QB facing the toughest road environment in the country, it's hard to disagree. There were numerous 50-50 calls that went the Tigers' way, but ... well, try convincing Mizzou fans that they don't deserve to get a few breaks occasionally.
Besides, the breaks would dry up soon enough.