Bowl hopes shattered
Jan. 14, 1998
Missouri fans who hoped their foot would fit the Holiday Bowl's glass slipper were disappointed on Dec. 29.
Missouri's Cinderella story ended abruptly as the No. 23 Tigers (7-5) fell to Colorado State 35-24 in the 20th annual bowl at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.
"Bowl games are an extra," said Missouri coach Larry Smith. "They are the cherry on top of the sundae. We didn't get the cherry, but we got the sundae."
Before kickoff, the Missouri team sat silently outside its locker room, looking all too anxious before the university's first bowl appearance since 1983.
Missouri quarterback Corby Jones hinted that the week-long buildup to the game was too much for the Tigers.
"I felt at times we were here a little bit long," Jones said.
During that week, MU players attended public luncheons, saw the San Diego Zoo, toured the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and pacified the around-the-clock media bombardment, all the while trying to practice and prepare for the No. 17 Rams (11-2).
From the start of the game, MU's long week in San Diego and rust from a six-week layoff showed in the Tiger play.
After allowing CSU to open with an 85-yard drive en route to a touchdown, Jones fumbled a second-and-10 option run, coughing up the ball on the Missouri 39-yard line.
After forcing the Rams to three-and-out, the Tigers regrouped and Jones collected himself as he drove 65 yards for a Scott Knickman field goal.
"We came together on a couple of drives," Jones said. Then he added that the team "never really got into a groove."
Jones was especially off his game, completing sevenof 17 passes for only 68 yards.
Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick said his defensive strategy was to pressure Jones.
"We didn't know if it would be better to let them run or pass, so we decided to pressure the pass," Lubick said. "We didn't give him a chance to throw the ball."
"I didn't get a whole lot of time to see the receivers because of the [pass] rush," Jones said.
With the Tigers losing composure early in the second quarter, MU fans were biting their nails as Vince Sebo came in to punt away a Missouri fourth down.
Sebo shocked Qualcomm by delivering a 61-yard punt, a season long for Sebo and a Holiday Bowl record.
In a change of fate, Sebo's punt seemed to rally the Tigers. Behind Jones usually impressive option, running for 80 first-half yards and junior tailback Devin West's step-up performance for 78 yards, MU scampered to two successive touchdowns and a 17-14 halftime lead.
But the glimmer of the special teams' success was a rarity for the Tigers as the kicking game wasted their second-half advantage.
"We didn't do a good job this game or all season with the [special teams]," Smith said.
On the contrary, Lubick prepared for a big special teams game.
"We challenged our team at halftime that we had to have a big play and come up big on the special teams," Lubick said.
The big play was what Lubick got.
Coming off a Sebo punt, which ended the Tigers' second-half opening drive, CSU's Darren Hall returned the punt 85 yards and gave Colorado State a 21-17 lead.
On the play, MU's Shad Criss looked to get clipped as the officials decided to look the other way. Smith acknowledged the importance of the play and the non-call.
"We definitely had momentum in the second quarter, but that punt return changed the momentum," he said. "We can voice our opinion [on the call], but the bottom line is the officials make the calls, and we play the game."
The final blow came to the Tigers early in the fourth quarter as Colorado State ran a fake field goal.
Second-string quarterback Ryan Eslinger, lining up to hold the 41-yard field goal attempt for second-string kicker C. W. Hurst (whose longest field goal of the season was from 34 yards), rushed 23 yards straight through the Missouri line and into the end zone.
"The fake field goal was not unexpected," Smith said. "We had it plugged up, but guys didn't run and tackle him."
After the game, MU players had mixed feelings.
"I apologize to the seniors because we didn't want them to go out like this," Jones said.
Missouri was still happy to get the chance to play in the bowl, though.
"The senior class still left their mark," said senior offensive lineman Mike Morris. "We're leaving on the rise. I just can't wait for the next class."