The Missouri Tigers are headed to Atlanta for their second consecutive SEC Championship game after rallying past Arkansas 21-14. Missouri scored 18 unanswered points, 15 in the fourth quarter, to clip Arkansas. Senior Markus Golden forced and recovered a fumble with 2:13 remaining in the game to seal the win for the Tigers.
Trailing 14-6 to start the fourth quarter with a stagnant offense, quarterback Maty Mauk completed a 44-yard pass to Jimmie Hunt down to Arkansas’ 37-yard line. Five plays later Mauk found Hunt again, this time for a four-yard touchdown to pull the Tigers within two. A two-point conversion would tie the game at 14-14.
Following an Arkansas punt, Missouri pulled up their sleeve and got dirty. They pounded the ball on a 12-play drive for the eventual go ahead touchdown. Missouri gained all 85 yards in the drive on run plays. Marcus Murphy scored from 12 yards out to give the Tigers the 21-14 lead. But it was Russell Hansbrough who led the team on the ground, gaining 47 of his game-high 91 yards on the go ahead drive.
Missouri joined the SEC in 2012, and in three seasons the Tigers are headed to their second SEC Championship game. The Tigers, who were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East in the preseason by the media, needed a win Friday to clinch the division title. They finish their regular season with a 10-2 overall record, 7-1 in the SEC. Georgia, who handed Missouri their lone conference-loss, was hoping for an Arkansas win in order for them to claim the SEC East.
But that was no to be. The Tigers withstood a sluggish start in the first half against Arkansas in what is now referred to as the “Border Rivalry.” Arkansas took a 14-3 lead behind two touchdown passes from quarterback Brandon Allen. Missouri stole some momentum at the end of the half, as kicker Andrew Baggett made a 50-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-6 just as time expired in the second quarter.
Arkansas seemingly gained the momentum back when Razorbacks sophomore offensive lineman Dan Skipper blocked Baggett’s 35-yard field goal attempt. But a hobbled Allen, who missed the second half of last week’s win over Mississippi, started to show ramifications of the injury in the second half of Friday’s contest. At one stretch Allen completed just two of his first 10 passing attempts of the half.
Missouri dialed up the pressure on Allen and forced him to put his body to work trying to deliver accurate passes with the hurting hip. That kept Arkansas at bay, and allowed Mauk and the Tigers’ offense to get rolling in the fourth quarter for the comeback win. The surprisingly underdog Tigers were more physical up front, running the football at will in the fourth quarter.
After a going 2-6 in its inaugural season in the SEC, Missouri has now won 14 of 16 regular season conference games. Last year, the Tigers fell short to Auburn 59-42 in the SEC Championship. While Missouri is headed to the SEC Championship game, they will have to await Saturday’s games to find out who they will play Dec. 6., at the Georgia Dome from the SEC West division. If Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday or if Mississippi State loses to Mississippi in the Egg Bowl, the Tigers will play Alabama for the SEC title. If Alabama loses and Mississippi State wins, then it will be Mississippi State headed to face Missouri for the SEC Championship.
Commentary by King Motley
Photo by Taylor Bennett – Flickr License