Facing fourth-and-goal at the South Carolina 1-yard line in the closing minutes Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, the Missouri staff didn’t opt for anything fancy.
Just a simple handoff up the gut.
Sophomore tight end Sean Culkin motioned across the formation, a two wide-receiver set, from right to left, tapping quarterback Maty Mauk on the hip as he passed.
Junior Evan Boehm snapped the ball, Mauk wheeled around and handed it to junior Russell Hansbrough and he chugged straight ahead right behind Boehm and junior Connor McGovern.
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“It actually doesn’t even have a name,” McGovern said. “We just know we’ve got to do it. Everyone’s screaming and yelling, and that’s just the way it is.”
Hansbrough didn’t get in by much but his third touchdown of the game secured an improbable 21-20 victory against the 13th-ranked Gamecocks.
“At the very end, it was just a dive in there,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Sooner or later, you’ve got to make one yard. They did a great job stopping up, but when it came time to make the play — that was great for our offensive line and our offense to do that.”
Before that, Missouri looked dead in the water.
The Tigers’ offense racked up 102 yards on the game’s first two drives, netting a touchdown and a field-goal try, but managed only 69 yards on the next 11 drives combined.
Aside from a kneel-down to end the second quarter, Missouri had punted 10 consecutive times, but South Carolina failed to bury Pinkel’s squad.
After that 50-minute slumber, a 41-yard bomb to Bud Sasser from Mauk, who went 12 of 34 for 132 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, awakened the Tigers just in the nick of time.
No sooner had South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson lobbed a 23-yard touchdown over the middle for sophomore Pharoh Cooper, who held on despite getting drilled to the ground by senior strong safety Braylon Webb than Missouri began to show signs of life.
The Gamecocks’ 20-7 lead seemed insurmountable before the heave to Sasser, who had six catches for 86 yards, followed by a 26-yard deep post to junior Wesley Leftwich, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Hansbrough — a sweep left, which he cut all the way back to the middle of the field.
Missouri’s defense, which opened the game with a fourth-down stop near midfield, responded with a three-and-out before Mauk led the game-winning nine-play, 51-yard march.
“It was just a crazy day out there, and I’m just very proud of our team and how we battled and fought,” Pinkel said. “When things got tough, we just stayed positive. The defense kept us in it, but stayed totally positive with the offense the whole time.”
Last year, South Carolina erased a 17-point second-half deficit behind Connor Shaw, but this time Missouri flipped the script and rallied from down 13 points to take control of the SEC East division race.
“This is unbelievable,” said linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who led Missouri with 10 tackles, including two for a loss. “It’s just a great team win.”
Missouri, 4-1 and 1-0 in the SEC, is the only team in the division without a conference loss.
Of course, victory was only secure after Tigers junior Andrew Baggett banged home a critical extra point — despite an ornery “block that kick” chant from the Gamecocks’ faithful — for the game-winning point.
Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal in double overtime that cost Missouri the win last season at Memorial Stadium, the Tigers’ only regular-season loss in 2013.
Missouri’s much-maligned defense, which gave up nearly 500 yards and couldn’t stop Indiana late in a home loss last week, stopped South Carolina on fourth-and-1 on the game’s opening drive.
The Tigers’ offense made sure it stung and silenced the crowd of 83,493, grabbing the early lead on Hansbrough’s 18-yard touchdown scamper four plays later.
Hansbrough, left the game late in the second quarter with a sore hip, but returned for the second half. He finished with 43 yards on 10 carries with three touchdowns.
Baggett missed a 48-yard field goal in Missouri’s second drive.
South Carolina’s Elliott Fry did not miss his 33-yard try, while the Gamecocks’ defense clamped down only permitted the Tigers’ offense 20 yards on 21 plays during the remainder of the first half.
South Carolina took a 10-7 lead with 1:36 left before halftime on a 17-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis.
Fry added a 41-yard field goal in the third quarter.