Tigers squeak by Blue Raiders in OT

There was an unlikely hero and a very likely hero on Saturday as the Tigers escaped from an embarrassing upset to a winless team and won in overtime. Missouri came back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit. Mike Matheny made a 36-yard extra point to win it, but it was, who else, Brad Smith that came out of his shell and led the Tigers to victory.

Don't expect Mike Matheny to take credit for giving Missouri a comeback win on Saturday. After all, Matheny was one of the reasons the Tigers had to come back.

Matheny, who had already had an extra point blocked and kicked two kickoffs out of bounds, got a chance to make up for it all.

After tying Middle Tennessee in overtime, all Matheny had to do was make the extra point. One problem: Thomson Omboga's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty turned a chip shot into a 36-yarder for the win.

Matheny made it, and the Tigers lived to see another undefeated day with a 41-40 overtime win.

"I did terrible on kickoffs," Matheny said. "And extra points, I struggled. But I was happy with the chance to make up for it myself. I just wanted to do what I feel I can, but the team pretty much won it for us. I just pushed us over the edge."

Quarterback Brad Smith is the one who pushed Missouri to the edge. With Missouri trailing by eight in the second half, Smith took it upon himself to lead the Tiger comeback.

After Middle Tennessee went ahead 31-23 with more than seven minutes left in the third quarter, Smith went for 131 yards of total offense, leading Missouri to a field goal early in the fourth quarter and then the tying and winning touchdowns.

"For Brad to do this, does it surprise me?" Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "No, I expect it. Do you lean on your best players? Everybody in the country does it. All day long, they're doing it all around the country. That shouldn't surprise anybody. But the point is, he does it. That's another part of his development. He wants the football and we certainly lean on him like anybody would if they had him."

Missouri cut the lead to 31-26 with 10:53 left in the fourth quarter on a Matheny field goal, but the Tigers could stop the Blue Raiders' ground attack. Middle Tennessee came back and responded with an 11-play drive, but Missouri stopped the drive at the 4-yard line.

Kelly made a 21-yard field goal to put Middle Tennessee ahead 34-26 with 5:16 left. Middle Tennessee coach Andy McCollum said he really didn't consider going for it.

"We were up by five, and if I don't get it right there, then they've got a chance to beat us before going to overtime," McCollum said. "When you're on the road against the Big 12 in a packed house and you've got your team a chance to win the game, I like that."

That's when Smith delivered probably the drive of his life. He saved the Tigers with conversions on fourth-and-2 at the Missouri 35 and third-and-2 at the Middle Tennessee 18. On the drive, Smith accounted for 74 of Missouri's 73 yards. Zack Abron had one rush that went for a 1-yard loss.

With 1:17 left, Smith threw the ball up to the back left corner of the end zone, where Darius Outlaw made a diving catch while a Middle Tennessee defender interfered with him. Somehow, he managed to keep a foot in bounds.

Photo: Becking, Outlaw rejoices with Tony Palmer after final touchdown in regulation.

"That was nice," Outlaw said. "It felt good to get in the end zone. It was great. I knew I had to catch the ball."

The Tigers still had to make the two-point conversion. Missouri lined up in a shotgun formation with trips left, meaning the Tigers had three receivers on the left side. Smith hiked it and swept right, going untouched into the end zone to tie it at 34.

Rather than try to win it in regulation, Middle Tennessee ran out the clock for overtime.

The Tigers won the coin toss and forced the Blue Raiders to go first in overtime. Blue Raiders' quarterback Andrico Hines, who finished with 248 yards passing, hit Jerrin Holt for 24 yards on second down from the 28-yard line. Two plays later, Hines scored on a 4-yard option he took up the middle.

But as soon as Middle Tennessee's upset hopes could be revived, its own kicker, Brian Kelly, put them back to sleep. Kelly's extra-point attempt bounced off the left goalpost and into the end zone, and Missouri only trailed 40-34.

"I was jumping up and down on the sideline, saying, ‘Let's go offense.'"

The Tigers didn't take any chances through the air. Even though it lined up mostly in shotgun formations with three or four receivers, the Tigers ran five plays, all rushes. Smith topped it off with a three-yard touchdown run, another left sweep that looked very similar to the two-point conversion earlier.

"I love when the coaches say they're going to put the ball in my hands, and it' up to me," Smith said.

But the Tigers' emotions ran a bit too high. As Smith kneeled down in the end zone pointing to the sky, Thomson Omboga flexed in front of a photographer behind the end zone. The officials gave Missouri a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

"I'm just thinking that if he misses, it's on my shoulders," Omboga said. "But if he makes it, hopefully coach Pinkel will look past (the penalty)."

Lucky for Omboga, Matheny did make it, and the Tigers got the chance to talk about winning rather than losing.

"Last year, the year before, no way we win that game," Pinkel said. "No way we do that. We didn't have that in us."

Missouri, which entered the game fourth in the nation in points per game allowed, gave up 40 points to the Blue Raiders including 438 yards of total offense to the Blue Raiders. Hines accounted for 238 yards passing yards on the day. Middle Tennessee running backs Don Calloway, Kevin Davis and Eugene Gross combined for 176 yards.

After the Blue Raiders went up 7-0 early, Missouri responded with 16 unanswered points.

Middle Tennesse cut the lead to 16-14 with seven minutes left. That touchdown, a 1-yard Gross run, came four plays after the trick play of the day. The Blue Raiders ran a halfback pass from Gross to receiver Kerry Wright. Missouri safety Nino Williams sat under the lofted pass. As he jumped to catch it, it went through his hands and miraculously into Wright's.

"What happens also is you keep an underdog in the game and they start thinking they can win," Pinkel said. "I've been on the other side of it. The longer you keep them in, the more they think they can win. They're on cloud nine. They got a chance to win. They did a lot of great things."

"A lot of this is created. They try a trick play and it goes right through Nino Williams hands. It's an interception and it goes right through his hands. They catch the football. You can sit there and say they're lucky. I'm telling you, if you let it go through your hands, you're creating the bad luck."

Missouri takes it 4-0 record into Lawrence, Kansas next Saturday to take on bitter rival Kansas in their conference opener.

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