After a mostly quiet night, Michael Sam came up with the biggest play Friday in a 41-31 victory against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.
With the Cowboys trailing by a field goal and driving, Sam raced around the left end, tracking down quarterback Clint Chelf from behind. Sam’s sack forced a fumble that sophomore Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege grad, scooped up and raced 73 yards for a game-ending touchdown.
The play turned out to be the final snap of Sam’s Missouri career, and it gave him 11 1/2 sacks, tying Aldon Smith’s single-season school record. Sam already had led the Southeastern Conference in sacks and tackles for a loss this season and became only the second unanimous All-America in program history.
Sam could be joined next season in by another Tigers pass rusher. Junior Kony Ealy, who finished with two sacks, announced after the game that he will declare for the NFL Draft.
The victory put Tigers coach Gary Pinkel in sole possession of first place in career victories at Missouri. Pinkel, 102-63 in 13 seasons, passed Don Faurot, 101-79-10 in 19 seasons.
“I wanted that trophy really bad,” said Pinkel, who praised his team for handling adversity.
Missouri led by 10 at halftime but Oklahoma State seemed poised to retake the lead late in the game and end the Tigers’ remarkable turnaround in its second season in the SEC.
The Tigers finished 12-2 and tied the program’s single-season victory mark reached in 2007. But they trailed 31-27 after junior Desmond Roland’s 2-yard touchdown run with 5:04 left. Then quarterback James Franklin, who had an otherwise tough ballgame in his college swan song, engineered a 69-yard go-ahead touchdown drive.
Junior Henry Josey, who was chosen offensive player of the game, scored his third touchdown on a 16-yard run as Missouri jumped back in front 34-31 in the closing minutes. MU linebacker Andrew Wilson, who finished with 15 tackles, was the defensive player of the game.
The game had been something of a snoozer for three quarters before both teams finally found rhythm on offense down the stretch.
Tied at 17-17, Josey moved Missouri back into the lead with a 25-yard touchdown run at the 11-minute, 32-second mark.
Oklahoma State answered fewer than 2 minutes later when Chelf weaved his way for a game-tying 23-yard touchdown.
Franklin was bailed out when he threw a pick-six as former KU cornerback Tyler Patmon stepped in front of sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham for an interception and 40-yard return. Patmon was whistled for pass interference to the chagrin of the Cowboys’ faithful in the crowd of 72,690.
Seven plays later, the Tigers took the lead instead on a 46-yard field goal by sophomore Andrew Baggett.
Sluggish doesn’t begin to describe the game’s start, which was memorable primarily for dueling interceptions and dropped passes by the Tigers throughout the first quarter.
Missouri finally broke a scoreless stalemate with three minutes remaining when junior Henry Josey scooted into the end zone on a 3-yard option pitch from senior quarterback James Franklin.
The drive was set by senior cornerback E.J. Gaines’ team-leading fifth interception of the season at midfield.
Chelf, who had scrambled from the pocket and appeared to have a clear path to the first down before throwing the ball straight to Gaines, answered with a 40-yard touchdown strike to junior Josh Stewart.
The Tigers closed the half with 10 straight points for a 17-7 halftime lead.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk took over for a series and scrambled for 35 and 34 yards on consecutive plays.
Mauk capped a six-play, 80-yard drive by dropping a pretty 24-yard lob to senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas over leaping cornerback Ashton Lampkin trailing safety Shamiel Gary.
Baggett added a 35-yard field goal on the second quarter’s final play, but the Cowboys stormed back thanks to two fumbles by Franklin.
The first, on a read-option handoff to Josey, set up Chelf’s 21-yard touchdown to Jhajuan Seales late in the third quarter and the second, on an option pitch to Josey, led to freshman Ben Grogan’s game-tying 25-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.