At 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds, Missouri sophomore defensive tackle Josh Augusta ranks low on the list of Tigers one might expect to change the game with a leaping interception.
But there’s little doubt that Augusta’s third-quarter pick Saturday was the turning point for the 20th-ranked Tigers in a 38-10 victory against Central Florida at Memorial Stadium.
“It changed the whole momentum of the game,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
Through most of the first three quarters, the Knights’ deliberate game plan kept George O’Leary’s bunch in the ballgame.
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Central Florida, 0-2, owned a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in time of possession, and the result was a dogfight for No. 20 Missouri, 3-0, which led only 14-10 before Augusta’s heroics.
Quarterback Justin Holman had led a gritty drive from the shadow of the Knights’ goal line to near midfield before ricocheting a second-down throw off an offensive lineman’s head.
“I was going for one of my stunts and I saw the quarterback get ready to throw, so I jumped and put my hands up,” Augusta said. “It hit off the O-lineman’s helmet and I saw it go up. I just went up there to go get it.”
Augusta tracked the carom as it cartwheeled downfield and lept to snag it with his bear-like paws for one of the most athletic interceptions you’ll see a defensive lineman make.
“That type of play right there gets everybody going,” said senior wide receiver Jimmie Hunt, who caught two first-half touchdowns. “That’s what we need to fuel the fire.”
Augusta’s interception extended Missouri’s nation-leading streak of consecutive games with at least one turnover created to 47.
Four plays later, quarterback Maty Mauk threw a slant to senior wide receiver Bud Sasser, who slipped a tackle and scampered across the goal line for a 21-yard touchdown.
It was the first of three straight scoring drives for Missouri, which stretched its lead to 31-10 as the defense took over the game.
“I thought our football team responded really well at halftime,” Pinkel said. “I thought we really came out and competed. There’s nothing easy about winning.”
After Central Florida, 0-2, went three-and-out — thanks, in part, to senior defensive end Markus Golden’s first-down sack — Mauk delivered a 22-yard scoring strike to Sasser.
“At halftime, we said, ‘Hey, they’re giving us certain things. We’re going to take the short routes and we’re going to move the ball methodically down the field,’” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “For the most part, that’s what we did.”
Up 28-10, junior Shane Ray’s sack/forced fumble, which was recovered by sophomore Michael Scherer, snuffed out a promising Knights drive and preceded a 26-yard field goal by junior Andrew Baggett.
That assured the win, but the defensive line was still warming up.
“Shane was everywhere, and Markus certainly did some good (things),” Pinkel said. “We had a lot of defensive linemen do a lot of things.”
Senior Lucas Vincent smothered Holman for yet another sack on the ensuing drive, which ended with an interception by senior safety Braylon Webb.
Missouri’s defense put an exclamation point on the win with 13 seconds left when sophomore Ricky Hatley jarred the ball loose on the Tigers’ sixth sack. Senior Duron Singleton scooped up the fumble and rumbled 60 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
Before the barrage of turnovers and Tigers touchdowns, the game had been in doubt.
Missouri jumped in front on Mauk’s 11-yard scrambling touchdown to Hunt, but Central Florida rattled off three straight drives of at least 10 plays.
The Knights surged into the lead — the first deficit the Tigers has faced this season — on a 19-yard Shawn Moffitt field goal and a 2-yard, fourth-down touchdown from Holman to sophomore running back William Stanback sandwiched around Mauk’s interception.
He was baited into throwing deep only to have sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn undercut the route and return the interception 31 yards to the Missouri 31.
The Tigers’ answer was compelling.
Mauk went four of five passes for 30 yards and also had three carries for 18 yards on the drive on a 14-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Hunt.