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January 1, 1966: Mizzou 20, Florida 18

Sugar Bowl
#6 Missouri (7-2-1) vs Florida (7-3)

Throughout history, how often do you figure a team has stopped a soon-to-be Heisman Trophy quarterback on three two-point conversions? I'm willing to bet it isn't a very common occurrence. It takes a team with an infinitely supply of testicular fortitude to pull that off--luckily, Mizzou's defense proved it had just that.

In 1965, Missouri had been on both ends of comeback attempts. Against UCLA, the Tigers had fallen behind 14-0 in the fourth quarter before putting together the most unlikely of comebacks--two special teams touchdowns did the deed--and they had managed a tie. Against Nebraska, it was the other way around. Mizzou took a quick 14-0 lead before NU came back and, aided by an official who wasn't fond of curse words, did just just enough to beat Mizzou, 16-14. By this point in the season, the Tigers were probably pretty unimpressed with double-digit leads or deficits.

Good thing, too, because lesser teams might have panicked in the face of a mad comeback attempt by a stud quarterback.

Heading into the Sugar Bowl, you'd think the attention had to be on the offenses, right? Gary Lane, Big 8 leading rusher Charley Brown, and do-everything Johnny Roland versus Steve Spurrier (11 months prior to winning the Heisman) and All-American WR Charley Casey. But for both teams, defense took top billing. Missouri's defense featured Roland and a stout secondary, and had only given up more than 14 points twice in ten games. Meanwhile, the Florida defense entered the Sugar Bowl ranked #7 in the country, highlighted by All-Americans of their own in DE Lynn Matthews and DB Bruce Bennett.

Sure enough, it was a defensive show early. Neither team scored in the opening frame, as both teams were feeling each other out (a boxing reference!). But in the second quarter, Mizzou's rushing attack got rolling. The Tigers put together a 59-yard drive that was highlighted by Charley Brown's lovely diving catch of a Gary Lane pass. Brown then jetted in from 10 yards out to give Mizzou a 7-0 lead.

The teams then traded punts, only Florida muffed a return, and Mizzou was handed good field position. They took advantage immediately with a halfback option pass from Johnny Roland to Earl Denny...

From Todd Donaho's MizzouRah! and this site

...and it was 14-0. Florida finally got rolling on offense after that--the future Ol' Ball Coach drove the Gators to the Mizzou 10, but a penalty dropped them back to the 25, and then Mizzou DE Dan Schuppan recovered a Spurrier fumble to stop the drive. Missouri snuck in a field goal and took a commanding 17-0 lead into halftime.

The story of the first half was by far Mizzou's defense. Nevermind Roland and the secondary--this time it was linemen like Schuppan and Tom Lynn raising a ruckus and continuously harassing Spurrier. After the game, Devine said about Spurrier, "We have never hit a quarterback so often or so hard, but he hung in there to do a great job."

To shut out the potent Gators for a half was quite impressive, but to do it for another half would be impossible, right?

Well, maybe not. The D picked up where they left off in the second hafl, shutting UF out in the third quarter and, more importantly, tacking on another field goal to increase the lead to 20-0. As you remember, Mizzou went into a shell against Nebraska and failed to score after two easy TD drive in the first quarter--it was key for Mizzou to remain aggressive against the dangerous Gators, and though it was only a field goal, it made a world of difference.

Heading into the final quarter, Mizzou had the dagger in their hands. They faced a 3rd-and-1 from the Florida 15 and a chance to end any hope of a Florida comeback, but Carl Reese was stuffed for no gain. Devine then had a choice to make--go for a third field goal and technically keep Florida within three possessions, or go for the first down, score a touchdown, and end the game. Devine, who showed against UCLA that he had no problem going for the win when he went for two down 14-6 in the fourth quarter (they missed and needed a two-point conversion on their next touchdown just to tie), went for the jugular. And missed. Reese was stuffed again on fourth down, and Florida was given life.

Six passes later (all completions), it was 20-6. Spurrier took the Gators 85 yards in the blink of an eye, but for some curious reason, Florida coach Ray Graves decided the Gators should go for two. The attempt failed, and Florida was down a full 14 points. That did nothing to discourage the Gators, however. On the second play after the Florida kickoff, Earl Denny fumbled and Florida recovered on the Mizzou 11. Two plays later, Spurrier plunged in from a yard out, and it was 20-12. Ken Boston, however, broken up Spurrier's second two-point attempt, and the lead remained at eight points. If they had just attempted PATs, they'd have been down just six.

After a Mizzou punt, Spurrier had to lead Florida 81 yards for a chance to tie and did exactly that. And once again, it didn't take long. A spectacular juggling catch by Casey (who finished with 5 catches, 108 yards, and the career SEC receiving record) did the deed, and the score stood at 20-18 with four minutes left. But this time it was Jim Whitaker stepping up to the plate for the Tigers--he broke up a pass intended for Barry Brown (who had 9 catches for 88 yards on the day), and Mizzou continued to hold on for dear life.

Florida got the ball back one last time, but Mizzou's defense finally responded, quashing the rally, closing out a dramatic Sugar Bowl win, and allowing the 12,000+ Missouri fans in attendance to exhale for the first time in about an hour.

Missouri 20, Florida 18