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20 for 20: #18 - Mizzou escapes in The Battle of Columbia

The miraculous 2014 season was only possible because of an absurd ending to yet another strange game between Mizzou & South Carolina.

Missouri v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

In an effort to look back fondly at the successes of Tiger football, the Rock M Nation football staff compiled and ranked the greatest games of the past 20 years. There’s no science or math involved here: we simply listed what we thought were the 20 best games of the past 20 years and counted the votes. We’ll start with the games getting the fewest votes and work our way up to #1.

2014 Battle of Columbia: Missouri 21 - South Carolina 20

Let’s travel back in time to 2014. It was a simpler time for Mizzou fans. The Tigers were fresh off their first SEC East title. The defense was riding high with one of the best defensive end duos in the country. The offense had questions all over the field, but Maty Mauk returned after an impressive debut season in 2013.

Then, the upset happened.

Week four, Mizzou vs. Indiana. Markus Golden is a surprise late scratch with an injury. The defense that was expected to carry the team had no answers for Tevin Coleman and the Hoosiers’ offense.

And things were about to get even more difficult. A trip to South Carolina was up next. This was the same Gamecocks team that just upset a top-10 ranked Georgia squad. It’s the same South Carolina squad that the year prior handed Missouri its only regular season loss.

The season was on the brink.

A win keeps Mizzou in the race for back-to-back division titles. A loss all but sinks the season.

The full Maty Mauk experience is what came next.

Missouri v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Mauk was prone to hot streaks... And cold streaks, too. On one drive the Tigers’ offense could look like a well-oiled machine. The next drive, it looked like the quarterback and receivers were running different plays.

Thus was life watching the 2014 Mizzou football team. And no game was more symbolic of the highs and the lows than Mizzou vs. South Carolina: The Battle of Columbia.

The Tigers struck first and took an immediate 7-0 lead, taking advantage of a huge defensive stop on 4th and short.

The next 50+ minutes of football were painful to watch.

18 of the 22 possessions following the Tigers’ touchdown resulted in a punt. Three of those possessions resulted in field goal attempts, only two of which went through the uprights. South Carolina was able to punch it into the end zone once.

The reason this game belongs on the list, though, is because of what happened next.

The fourth quarter is one Mizzou fans will never forget. Both offenses suddenly remembered the goal of the game is to score points. The Battle of Columbia went from a pillow fight to a prize fight with two legitimate top-25 teams exchanging haymakers.

The Gamecocks took a 20-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Everyone watching - myself included - had every reason to believe that touchdown was the final nail in the coffin.

But it wasn’t. Mauk responded with a 41-yard strike to Bud Sasser on the Tigers’ next play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Mizzou was in the end zone.

20-14 South Carolina. 6:49 to play. This is a game again.

Three-and-out. Punt.

The Tigers got the ball at midfield with 4:39 to play. After a 4th down conversion and a breakway run by Marcus Murphy, the Tigers found themselves at the goal line once again.

First down. Stuffed.

Second and goal. Stuffed.

Third and goal. Stuffed. Again.

Less than two minutes to play. Fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, down by six. Game on the line, one play to go.

TOUCHDOWN, TIGERS.

Russell Hansbrough put the Tigers on top and kept the hopes alive for a return trip to Atlanta.

That win at South Carolina changed so much about how the 2014 season is remembered. The defense that year was tremendous. The offense had its moments. But the team just kept finding ways to win.

The win at South Carolina pushed the Tigers over the top. That’s the game that won them the SEC East for the second-straight season. That was the moment fans bought back in.

South Carolina is Mizzou’s real rival in the SEC East. The heavyweight bouts in 2013 & 2014, in particular, laid the foundation for that rivalry.