COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Eli Drinkwitz and the Missouri coaching staff decided in the closing seconds of a back-and-forth affair with Kansas State on Saturday that if the Tigers crossed midfield and reached the 40-yard line, they would give Harrison Mevis a chance to kick the winning field goal.
Missouri made it to the Kansas State 38 and quarterback Brady Cook spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Then that same coaching staff inexplicably lost track of time on the sideline, and the delay-of-game penalty pushed the field-goal attempt back 5 yards. What would have been a 56-yarder became a 61-yard long shot from the wrong side of midfield.
It didn’t matter.
After Cook threw incomplete trying to recoup the yardage, Mevis trotted onto the field anyway. And with the final few seconds ticking away, he boomed the SEC-record 61-yarder over the crossbar, sending the Tigers to a field-storming, come-from-behind 30-27 victory over the No. 15 Wildcats in a showdown of former Big 12 rivals.
“We took the penalty to make it more dramatic,” Drinkwitz said afterward. “This is all for TV anyway. This was in the script.”
Quite the fairytale ending.
“I told him right before the kick: ‘Listen, you’ve been doing this your whole life. This is your opportunity,’” Cook said. “I was just on a knee, watching. I just could not believe it. I could not believe it.”
The beleaguered Cook, who was booed by some home fans during introductions, finished with 356 yards passing and two touchdowns, despite hobbling around the second half on a sprained knee. Luther Burden III had both of the scoring grabs for the Tigers (3-0), finishing with seven catches for 114 yards in another star-making performance.
“Redemption is a beautiful thing,” Drinkwitz said. “That pissed me off when we booed our starting quarterback to start the game — that pissed me off. And he went out there and played his butt off for the team.”
Will Howard, who was likewise left hobbling after the brutally physical game, had 270 yards passing and three scores. But the senior also threw a costly pick, and the Wildcats (2-1) blew too many chances on third down to put the game away.
“We had plenty of opportunities in all three phases,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “This is what Big 12 football is going to be like starting next week. You’d better get used to tight ballgames that are hard to win.”
The Wildcats started off like they finished a year ago, when they rolled to a rain-soaked 40-12 victory in the first meeting since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC. Howard hit four different receivers while swiftly marching Kansas State down field, and his third-and-goal throw tipped by the Tigers’ JC Carlies landed in the hands of Phillip Brooks for the score.
Rather than begin a blowout, the touchdown launched a thriller.
Cook answered with a 47-yard touchdown heave to Burden, who spent most of the game making a mockery of the Kansas State secondary. And after Howard threw a pick in tight coverage, Mevis’ added his first field goal to give Missouri the lead.
When the Wildcats responded with a swift touchdown drive, the Tigers needed two big plays and about 2 1/2 minutes to score again. This time, Cook finished the drive with a short run to send them into halftime with a 17-14 lead.
That’s about when Cook hurt his leg, and for a while, the Missouri offense became stagnant. The Tigers punted twice to start the second half, and Kansas State turned them into a field goal and Howard’s second TD pass to Ben Sinnott for a 24-17 lead.
It was still 24-20 when the Wildcats squandered two chances to put the game away, failing twice on short third downs. And when Missouri took over after Howard’s third-and-1 pass fell incomplete, it took two plays — Cody Schrader’s 26-yard run and a personal foul penalty, and Cook’s 26-yard TD pass to Burden — to cover 77 yards and give Missouri a 27-24 lead.
The Wildcats had a chance to regain the lead with 5 1/2 minutes to go. But with third-and-goal at the Missouri 3, Howard lost track of time and was called for a delay of game. Kansas State settled for a tying field goal — and a costly one at that.
Mevis made sure of that with his kick — the one that bailed out his coaches — on the game’s final play.
“I would have preferred it from 56,” he said, “but you know, it really doesn’t matter. It’s going to be the same kick.”
Kansas State beat itself at the most inopportune of times. Along with the failed third downs, the Wildcats were penalized seven times for 65 yards, their running game was bottled up in the second half and Howard had far too many passes dropped. Those are all correctable mistakes going forward, but they proved costly on Saturday.
Missouri has been under pressure to move beyond mediocre under Drinkwitz, who has yet to have a winning record in three seasons despite going to three bowl games; that’s part of the reason Cook was booed by fans, who have been pining for backup Sam Horn to take the field. The result Saturday could go a long way toward changing those narratives.
Kansas State plays Big 12 newcomer UCF next Saturday night.
Missouri plays Memphis next Saturday night in St. Louis.