Henry Josey had to stop at 57 yards, but he might as well have run all the way to Atlanta.
The junior’s touchdown run with 3:34 remaining gave Missouri a 28-21 win over Texas A&M and an SEC East championship.
It was third-and-two when Josey took the ball, as Missouri attempted to move the ball methodically down the field.
“I thought for sure we’d get two yards,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said of his play call.
Josey broke through the line, and ran unopposed into the south end zone.
“We just hit the crease,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “You know, sometimes when you come up there, you hit all the gaps, you don’t have a free safety in the back because you brought everybody to the line of scrimmage, if you just get in that second level, there’s nobody there.”
Josey missed the entire 2012 season after suffering a serious knee injury in late 2011. Both Missouri players and coaches found it fitting that Josey, who said he changed his outlook on football and life after the injury, would be the one to send Missouri to Atlanta.
“It’s fitting that Henry Josey, the kind of year he’s had, and who he is and what he’s about,” Pinkel said. He’s sacred to Mizzou fans.”
Josey took the majority of Missouri’s handoffs, finishing with 96 yards on 13 attempts.
“I don’t know if you guys noticed, but he’s pretty fast,” senior tackle Justin Britt said.
Although Josey’s run sealed the game and the division, the game would’ve been out of reach if not for a strong third quarter from the Tigers. Senior guard Max Copeland said the team gathered together and refocused at halftime.
“We all came together and said, ‘Hey, we’re OK, man, don’t freak out, don’t panic, we know what to do. Let’s just go out there and give everything we’ve got for 30 minutes, that’s all we ask,’” Copeland said.
Missouri dominated the third, outscoring the Aggies 14-0 and out gaining them 164-54. The Tigers sandwiched a Texas A&M three-and-out between two touchdown drives. Junior running back Marcus Murphy and senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington did the scoring, the former on a 2-yard sweep and the latter on a 5-yard fade route.
The officials initially ruled Washington’s touchdown an incomplete pass, saying he didn’t obtain full possession until he was out of bounds, but overturned it following a review. Washington said he was confident the pass was complete.
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to line up until they challenged it,” Washington said.
Texas A&M answered on its first drive of the fourth quarter. The Aggies put together a nine-play touchdown drive after starting on their own two-yard line. Ben Malena capped off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 21.
The Tiger offense didn’t get a good jump either. Through its first four drives, Missouri averaged just 4.75 plays and 12.75 yards.
“It didn’t feel like a lot was working at all, to tell you the truth,” Henson said of the first half.
The Tigers then put together a 94-yard drive in the second quarter, capped by a 38-yard pass from senior quarterback James Franklin to sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
“Basically just like what we go through in practice,” Green-Beckham said. “Just getting guys open, that’s the one thing that came to mind for me, just to get open. Then James made a good throw and I made a good catch, so we counted it as six.”
Franklin performed well with both his feet and his arm in his final game at Faurot Field, going 18-28 for 233 yards through the air and 80 yards on the ground.
The Tigers kept Texas A&M’s Heisman-winning quarterback Jonathan Manziel in check as he appeared to be battling injuries. Missouri contained Johnny Football, sacking him twice and holding him to 195 yards passing and 21 yards rushing.
“We were relentless,” Pinkel said. “Our defensive line wanted him so bad and wanted a piece of him every chance they got.”
Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans entered the game averaging more than 115 yards per game. Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines held him to just eight yards on four catches.
“We felt if we could kind of control him, contain him, that would help us win it,” Pinkel said.
After winning just five games in 2012, Missouri wasn’t a sexy pick to go the SEC Championship. Neither was Auburn, a team that won three games in 2012. The Tigers of Auburn beat then-No. 1 Alabama Saturday afternoon to earn the SEC West Championship. The two teams will play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Dec. 7 at 3:00.
“It keeps getting bigger,” Pinkel said of the stage. “I keep telling my players, ‘your focus has got to get better because every week it gets a little bit bigger.”