As the seconds wound down in Missouri’s biggest win since 2014, Emanuel Hall scanned the stands looking for his mother, Shannon Simmons.
The 6-foot-3 receiver ran to the sideline and embraced her, which is something he’s had to do a lot lately.
After a four-game absence due to a groin injury and the death of his father, Hall returned on Saturday and led Missouri to a 38-17 upset win over No. 13 Florida. He was Missouri’s leading receiver with four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. The Gators are No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
“This has been the toughest year of my life,” Hall told reporters.
Hall started the season looking like an All-American and quarterback Drew Lock’s favorite target. Known last season for the go-route, he transformed into a multidimensional weapon during Missouri’s’ first four games and was leading the nation in receiving.
But he injured his groin after Missouri’s win against Wyoming on Sept. 8 and played the first quarter and last drive of the game the following week at Purdue. Hall played the next week at Georgia, which he said “was probably a mistake,” since the injury got worse.
Then his father Daton suddenly passed away Oct. 11, and Emanuel returned home to Nashville and spent time away from the team.
“Without football, I’m not sure he would have been able to manage that situation,” Lock said. “He’s grown up. He’s becoming a man pretty quick.”
Tuesday was Hall’s first practice since Sept. 21 and marked the first time he was able to run without pain. Hall said his groin injury was so bad that he couldn’t jog earlier in the season.
He didn’t know if he was going to play on Saturday but decided to give it a go shortly before kickoff. Lock looked for Hall almost immediately and under-threw him after being caught off guard with his speed.
Once Lock found him, the rest took care of itself.
Hall’s first catch was an 11-yard gain to Florida’s 27-yard line to set up MU’s first touchdown. Lock got Missouri downfield on a lot of short passes and then looked to Hall on second down. The following play, Larry Rountree found a gap to burst open for a 27-yard score, giving Missouri an early 7-3 lead with 3:46 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, with Florida’s defense keeping an eye on Hall, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was left uncovered and split down the seam for an easy 22-yard touchdown to extend Missouri’s lead to 14-3. Okwuegbunam left the game with a right shoulder bruise and his status after the game was unknown.
“You can’t really guard me, Albert, Nate and Jalen (Knox),” Hall said. “It really puts a lot of pressure on (defensive backs). When everybody’s healthy, this offense in my opinion is the best in the country.”
Hall set up Missouri’s next touchdown with a 41-yard catch on third down to move the chains to Florida’s 13-yard line. Tailback Damarea Crockett scored on an option play shortly after to extend MU’s lead to 21-3 with 6:06 left in the first half.
Missouri’s offense was averaging 482 yards per game when Hall was healthy. The Tigers offense averaged 100 yards fewer without him. On Saturday the Tigers had 482 yards in total offense.
“We know what he brings to the game plan,” Odom said. “He keeps showing up every time we have him out there. It’s really like two touchdowns.”
While Hall was out, Missouri lost games against South Carolina and Kentucky that it should have won and gave away a chance to scare Georgia in the Tigers’ 43-29 loss on Sept. 22.
Hall said it was tough watching games end the way they did, which is why he didn’t want Missouri to throw away a chance at running away with the game in the second half.
“For the season to slide off like it did, it really sucked,” he said. “This is something we could do. We’ve known we could do it, and tonight we did it.”
In the second half, Missouri’s defense, which had been effective all night, forced a three-and-out on the Gators first drive to give Missouri a chance for some breathing room.
Lock found true freshman Kam Scott for a 41-yard touchdown to extend Missouri’s lead to 28-10.
With Florida gaining some momentum at the end of the third quarter, Missouri’s offense took the field needing points to prevent a possible rally.
On first down, Lock found Hall for a 21-yard catch to move Missouri out of its own territory to the Gators’ 49-yard line. Missouri was then able to run the ball to take six minutes off the clock and ultimately ended the drive with a 40-yard field goal from Tucker McCann to make the score 38-17 with 9:08 left.
“When you’re growing up, you have your blankie. I was sleeping and I was freezing for like four weeks,” Lock said. “But the little blankie came back and made some plays for us.”
Hall is still optimistic that Missouri can finish the season strong, and the Tigers will be favored in their final three games.
He never entertained the idea of redshirting and wants to end his career on a high-note and not as someone who put themselves over the team by preserving their eligibility.
“I’m definitely going to play this and go on,” Hall said.
Dad sure would be proud.