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A Cotton Bowl in war time: Mizzou without Don Faurot

With help from one of the biggest dudes in college football, Missouri went on an unexpected run while waiting for its boss to return.

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Like most football coaches, Chauncey Simpson of Missouri University is mixing his summer golf with another popular pastime--tossing off next fall's gridiron championships to his competitors.

With a rueful shrug toward his own chances, Simpson has awarded the Big Six title for 1945 to Oklahoma's Sooners.

A quick glance at the Tigers' prospective roster shows at least 15 young men who will try to prove it was the mid-summer heat that made their boss talk that way.

When it comes to Mizzou Football during World War II, the most noteworthy stories are the ones that took place when Don Faurot enlisted and coached a military all-star team. And to be sure, his sojourn as Iowa Pre-Flight head coach helped to change college football.

Still, there was football going on in Columbia during the war, too. It just wasn’t very good. In 1943, backfield coach and head track coach Chauncey Simpson took over as long-term interim in Faurot’s absence. Like most of its opponents, Mizzou was comprised mostly of freshmen and played something that only somewhat resembled college football.

The Tigers went 3-5 that first year without Faurot, scoring 170 points and allowing 142. They did some damage midseason, walloping Kansas State and Nebraska by a combined 101-34 and giving Faurot’s Pre-Flight a run for its money. But the season ended with losses to Oklahoma (20-13) and Kansas (7-6).

The 1944 season, meanwhile, began with a tight 7-6 loss to Arkansas in St. Louis and a 54-0 destruction at the hands of Ohio State in Columbus. But after a 1-4-1 start, the Tigers rallied. Mizzou handed Michigan State its only loss of the season, 13-7 in Columbia, then tied Oklahoma in Norman. A rematch with Iowa Pre-Flight didn’t go too well (Seahawks 51, Tigers 7), but the season ended on a bright note: 285-pound lineman Jim Kekeris moved to fullback and carried 15 times for 86 yards in a 28-0 bludgeoning at Kansas City’s Ruppert Stadium.

Right before the 1945 season began, the war ended, meaning Faurot would be returning to the sideline soon. But the 43-year old Simpson was still to be in charge for one more fall, and he kept expectations to a minimum. This was a crazy-thin team (the meaty Kekeris aside, naturally), but after a brutal start, it put together one of Mizzou’s most refreshing seasons.

Take it away, Bob Broeg.

Enrollment had shriveled to 1,800 from a 1940 high of 6,300. Seventeen lettermen were lost, including quarterback Paul Collins through graduation and a most promising 230-pound sophomore fullback, Ed Quirk, called into service.

It was, essentially, still an all-civilian team of kids who had been too young for military service or physically disqualified. Sure, a gutty kid named Loyd Brinkman, a wounded war veteran from Perryville, was on campus. A young man named Howard Bonnett, a Pennsylvanian who had fallen in love with Ol’ Mizzou when stationed in the Army there, had been discharged and enrolled. And scholar-athlete Ralph Stewart, a talented center from St. Louis, later head coach at the University of South Dakota and a Ph.D. who eventually took over the large intramural program at MU, came back to Columbia to lend leadership to the team.

But who could envision anything except a long, unpleasant autumn of football after Missouri managed only 4 first downs to 19 at Minnesota and absorbed a 34-0 mauling? And who could figure anything nearly as nice as a beer bust on the Hinkson—particularly with the breweries back in peace-time production—after Ohio State crushed the Tigers at Columbus, 47-6?

September 22: Minnesota 34, Mizzou 0

September 29: Ohio State 47, Mizzou 6

Indeed, a season can hardly start worse than 1945's did for Missouri. The Tigers visited Minneapolis to face a Golden Gophers team that would end up going just 4-5, and in front of a crowd of 34,246, they got outclassed and outgained by a stunning 357-51 margin. Even including kick returns, the Tigers couldn't cross 100 yards.

A week later, a crowd of 41,299 in Columbus watched a top-15 caliber Ohio State team do even more wrecking. It was 20-0 Buckeyes at halftime, then the hosts scored another 27 points in the fourth quarter. Mizzou scored a garbage time touchdown to avoid a second straight shutout loss, but this was humiliating. Two weeks into the season, Mizzou had been outscored by 75 points.

October 6: Mizzou 10, SMU 7

One game rarely has the turnaround effect that we want to think, but it's hard to argue against the significance of Mizzou's Week 3 trip to Dallas. (Seriously, three straight semi-lengthy road trips to start the season!)

In wet conditions, Mizzou marched 66 yards to score on its opening possession against heavily-favored SMU; Bob Hopkins did most of the work on the drive and got to score the touchdown as well. That was pretty much it for this challenged offense, but the Mizzou defense finally made its 1945 debut.

The Tigers kept the Mustangs off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter, and when SMU finally scored, Mizzou responded with a 60-yard drive to the hosts' 10-yard line. Kekeris — not only a fullback and lineman, but also the team's place-kicker — nailed a short field goal to give the Tigers a shocking win.

October 13: Mizzou 13, Iowa State 7

October 20: Mizzou 41, Kansas State 7

October 27: Mizzou 19, Nebraska 0

From that point forward, it was like night and day from a confidence perspectve. In a fourth consecutive road trip, Mizzou trailed Iowa State 7-6 for most of the game in Ames but engineered a perfect 63-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

ISU was in the middle of a game-clinching drive, but the Tigers stopped them one yard short on fourth-and-4 from the MU 40, and finally an out-of-sync Tiger attack figured things out. Mizzou quarterback Leonard Brown raced 46 yards into the ISU red zone, and a few plays later Brinkman plunged in from the 2. Kekeris nailed the PAT.

Mizzou at Iowa State
Mizzou at Iowa State
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A week later, Mizzou finally made its home debut and absolutely trounced abysmal Kansas State. The Tigers outgained the Wildcats 530-170, bolted to a 28-0 halftime lead, and cruised. And against a less-than-awful Nebraska team at home, Mizzou once again raced to an early lead — 13-0 at half. The 19-0 final could have been worse: the Tigers outgained the Huskers, 270-89.

November 3: Michigan State 14, Mizzou 7

It seemed inconceivable a month earlier, but Mizzou was now in position to win the Big 6. Simpson’s last go-round had produced a 3-0 start in conference play with just two games to go. But first, the Tigers had one more non-conference matchup.

In a first-half snowstorm, Mizzou and host Michigan State battled to a draw in a scoreless slap fight.

The sun emerged from the clouds at halftime, though, and a blocked punt started the scoring. Michigan State's Nick Zieglor set the Spartans up with good field position via block, and Don Hendricks plunged in from three yards. Mizzou responded with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hopkins to Ron Oakes, but early in the fourth quarter, State's Russ Reador raced in for the game-winning points.

Mizzou was now 3-0 in conference and 0-3 against either Big Ten teams or teams about to join the Big Ten. But the latter didn't matter; the former might get the Tigers to an unexpected bowl game. The team, and the school, had a bye week to get ready.

November 17: Mizzou 14, No. 14 Oklahoma 6

From the Jefferson City News and Tribune:

Traffic Heavy at Columbia for Big Football Contest

State patrolmen reported last night that traffic at the Missouri-Oklahoma football game was probably the heaviest in the history of the university. All parking lots were full to over-flowing, and all roads near the stadium and up into the business district of Columbia were jammed.

However, due to the cooperation of motorists, there was only one or two minor accidents. One car in the parking lot burned up, but patrolmen got fire extinguishers from their automobiles and prevented other cars from being damaged.

From the St. Louis Star and Times:

Kansas Is Only Obstacle Left For Mizzou

COLUMBIA, MO. -- Those surprising Missouri Tigers, Cinderella team of the Big Six, cleared their heads today for the traditional final round battle with Kansas in Kansas City this Saturday and their first conference crown since 1942 when they went on to the Sugar Bowl.

The record crowd of the season, 23,000, which sat in on Saturday's dethroning of favored Oklahoma, was heavy in its opinion that the Bengals played inspired football. They had two things to thank: A hard-charging line that completely outclassed the Sooner forward wall and a smooth-working backfield combination which assured Missouri of at least a tie for the flag.

Big Jim Kekeris, 320-pound behemoth at tackle, was the individual light on defense. He poured through the Sooner line like water through a sieve; knocked down two passes and blocked a kick. His vicious tackling halted Venable and West for the first time this year.

(One supremely entertaining aspect of diving into these old articles: noting the fluctuating weight writers tied to Kekeris. From week to week, he was referred to as anywhere between 285 and 330 pounds. Imagine how much he must have weighed the day after Thanksgiving!)

An early Brinkman touchdown ended up giving Missouri all the points it needed in the biggest game of the year. Mizzou’s defense, so porous early in the year, shut down an OU offense that had scored a combined 80 points on Kansas and Kansas State a couple of weeks earlier. This was, bar none, the biggest win of Simpson’s tenure, impressive enough to lift Mizzou all the way to 16th in the AP poll, even at just 5-3.

Oklahoma at Mizzou
Oklahoma at Mizzou
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November 24: No. 16 Mizzou 33, Kansas 12

For the second straight year, Mizzou and Kansas met in Kansas City, and as was the case the year before, the Tigers dominated. An if there was any need for any extra bitterness heading into the weekend, there was this, an allegation by Kansas’ Phog Allen that Mizzou was more or less paying players and giving them preferential treatment:

Whether or not this provided any extra motivation for Mizzou, it certainly didn’t help Kansas. In front of 21,494, the Tigers eased ahead 12-6 at halftime, then laid the hammer down. Brinkman picked off a pass near midfield early in the third quarter, and a few plays later, Kekeris scored via lateral at the end of a 25-yard Brinkman run. Bonnett scored from four yards out a few minutes after that.

Kansas struck back to keep the score at 26-12, but Hopkins scored on a 35-yard run, and that was that. Mizzou rushed for 378 yards to KU’s 113 and finished conference play unbeaten.

What had begun as a disastrous campaign, as a time-filler until the boss man took back over in 1946, had turned into Mizzou’s first bowl run in four years. Simpson’s Tigers hadn’t changed all that much; they just found their confidence and rode it as far as it would take them. There is power in chemistry and belief and all those intangibles the stat nerds are supposed to hate; this mediocre but unflappable team was proof of it.

January 1: No. 10 Texas 40, No. 14 Mizzou 27

For a while, that confidence took them to the brink of a Cotton Bowl upset, as well. Against a heavily-favored, 9-1 Texas team — the AP’s expert predicted a 20-0 Longhorn win, and a Dallas writer picked UT by 33 — Mizzou engaged the Longhorns in the most high-scoring bowl game to date and kept up for quite a while.

It was 14-14 midway through the second quarter when Texas went on a bit of a run. A fumble recovery set up an easy UT touchdown midway through the third quarter and gave the Horns a 27-14 lead, but Mizzou kept striking back. Howard Bennett scored on a 21-yard run to make it 27-21, and when Texas made it 33-21, Mizzou made it 33-27 with an 80-yard touchdown drive and one-yard Hopkins plunge.

Mizzou rushed for an incredible 408 yards on the day, but in the end, the difference was that Texas had future NFL hall-of-famer Bobby Layne and the Tigers did not. Layne completed 11 of 12 passes for 158 yards, rushed for two short scores, and even caught a 50-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. Anything less, and Mizzou might have pulled the upset. But his second short score finally put the game away late.

Kekeris was impressive enough that he won co-player of the game honors with Layne, though, and while the defense couldn’t keep up, the offense shined a light on what might lie ahead. In 1946, not only would Faurot return, but so would Kekeris, many of Mizzou’s 1945 stars, and some pre-war stars as well. Big things were expected now that the boss was back.

Touchdown in the Cotton Bowl
Touchdown in the Cotton Bowl
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