The balloons burst, confetti cleared, fireworks faded and the Tigers triumphed, and just like that, Missouri's football season came to a close.
With a 30-23 overtime victory in the Alamo Bowl against Northwestern, the winningest class in Missouri football history played together for the final time. Together they won 37 games, four more than any other senior class.
Senior quarterback Chase Daniel came out shaky, throwing an interception on the game’s opening drive. Northwestern didn’t miss a beat and scored on a 35-yard touchdown pass to take an early 7-0 advantage.
Missouri’s offense continued to struggle in the first half, especially on running plays. Sophomore tailback Derrick Washington had only 11 yards at halftime.
After both teams exchanged field goals, making the score 10-3, Daniel lined up with an opportunity to tie the game in the second half.
With pressure from his blind side, Daniel forced a throw to the sideline while being tackled. The toss fell directly into the paws of 270-pound defensive lineman Corey Wootton.
Northwestern failed to take advantage of Missouri's mistake, missing a 47-yard field goal attempt.
But yet again, Daniel and the offense could not get more points on the board. The Missouri defense stepped up as senior defensive end Stryker Sulak sacked Northwestern's quarterback, pushing them back 10 yards. The Wildcats were forced to punt and chose to give sophomore wide receiver Jeremy Maclin a shot to return.
Maclin ran the football right up the middle to the endzone. The speedster went untouched for 75 yards to knot the game up at 10 going into halftime.
“When that punt, I swear, when that punt went up in the air and didn’t have much hangtime and was going right to him I said, ‘Mistake, mistake, y'all are going to pay for it,’” Daniel said.
Both offenses scored a touchdown on their opening drives of the second half, but Northwestern missed its extra point, putting the score at 17-16 in favor of Missouri.
After Missouri took its first lead of the game, senior linebacker Brock Christopher picked off senior quarterback C.J. Bacher and then ran the ball back 22 yards.
Daniel found Maclin deep in the endzone on the next series but Maclin couldn't tap a foot in bounds. Senior kicker Jeff Wolfert nailed a 43-yard field goal to put Missouri ahead 20-16.
After some tough defense from both teams and another Daniel interception, Northwestern regained the lead when senior receiver Ross Lane caught a 23-yard pass in the back of the endzone.
No one scored again until Wolfert tied the game at 23 with a 37-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining.
The defense forced Northwestern to go three-and-out and handed Daniel the ball with a minute and a half left to play.
Daniel drove the Tigers down the field and set up Wolfert, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, with a potential 44-yard game winner. But of course, nothing comes that easily. The ball missed just right of the crossbar and forced the game into overtime.
“I honestly didn’t even watch the kick too much,” Daniel said. “I was on the ground just hoping and praying. Not really watching because I couldn’t bring myself to it. But when we missed it, it happened. Stuff like that happens and you got to fight.”
So they did. Missouri scored easily on the first possession in overtime. After three quick running plays, Daniel hit Maclin on a 7-yard quick slant in the endzone. The two later revealed that Maclin ran the wrong route on the play.
Northwestern converted a first down quickly on its overtime possession and was set up with first-and-goal on the 9-yard line.
On first down sophomore linebacker Sean Weatherspoon pressured Northwestern's offense and forced an incomplete pass. On second down the quarterback sneaked up the middle for 1 yard. On third-and-8 Weatherspoon got in the backfield again and forced a fumble, putting Northwestern on the 32-yard line with one shot for the endzone.
“Coach called the blitz and me and William Moore came off the edge and we met at the quarterback,” Weatherspoon said. “It was jut a big play for our defense. It was just a sign of relief.”
Northwestern's Hail Mary pass fell incomplete on fourth down and the Tigers stormed the field in victory. After the game, Weatherspoon announced that he would return to Missouri for his junior year, rather than heading to the NFL draft.
Potential first round pick Maclin did not make any promises.
“There’s a lot more that I want to achieve at this university,” Maclin said. “I’m going to sit down and talk to coach Pinkel, coach (Andy) Hill, the rest of my teammates and my family to see what the best decision for me is.”
If Weatherspoon has any say in it, Maclin will be back.
“I’m his roommate, I probably can get him to stay,” Weatherspoon said.