Fatony brings A-game in front of hometown crowd

In Missouri’s last three games, Fatony has punted for 1,144 yards in 25 attempts for an average of 45.76 yards.
Corey Fatony (26) takes a kickoff at the Missouri vs. Vanderbilt game Oct. 24, 2015, at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As Missouri turned the football over on downs and the final clock expired, a fan in the west side of Vanderbilt Stadium catapulted an orange object onto the turf.

The suspicious item? A stuffed tiger, a white rope hanging from its neck.

The Tigers were taken down by Vanderbilt by a score of 10-3 Saturday, handing the Commodores their first Southeastern Conference win since Nov. 23, 2013.

A humdrum story that has become a bit of a routine for fans, Mizzou’s defense shined, while the offense faltered even further than in last week’s loss to Georgia. The Tigers became the first SEC team to score six points or less in three straight games since Kentucky in 1996, falling to a 4-4 record (1-4 SEC).

Rushing for 80 yards and passing for 180 while completing more than twice as many tackles as Vanderbilt, Missouri’s imbalanced play was on full display in what otherwise would have been a sure-fire win.

“Disappointment, frustration, high anxiety,” coach Gary Pinkel said post-game, describing the atmosphere in his team’s locker room. “It’s a lot of frustration. We’ve lost some close games, really the last three have been reasonably close except for Florida … but the bottom line is you gotta go do it, and we’re not getting it done.”

The Tigers’ inexperience and youth was clear on offensive positions, including a dropped punt return from freshman wide receiver Cam Hilton with 3:30 left in the fourth on a key possession.

But reshman punter Corey Fatony wrote a different story.

Mizzou’s last three games may have bored plenty of football fans, but any punting pundits and Fatony fanatics out there have undoubtedly been glued to their television screens. In the last three games, Fatony has punted for 1,144 yards in 25 attempts for an average of 45.76 yards a pop.

“Some of the punts he’s had are outstanding, and it’s encouraging that he’s a freshman,” Pinkel said last month. “I just like his competitiveness — the confidence he has.”

The first punter to be awarded a scholarship out of high school during Pinkel’s coaching career, Fatony has undisputedly earned it. Saturday night, on his birthday, Fatony punted for 429 yards in nine attempts.

But the confidence his head coach alluded to earlier this year was present in more ways than through his leg on Saturday.

With about four minutes left in the third quarter, Fatony abruptly woke up sleeping Missouri fans.

Getting lined up for what would’ve been the Tigers’ ninth punt of the night, Fatony got ready at the opposite 20-yard line for something of a habitual play on this Mizzou team’s drives.

He wiped the sweat off his hands, extended his arms out and prepared for the snap.

As soon as the football hit his fingertips, though, he was off to the races — a trick play that earned Missouri 26 yards and a much-needed first down.

“‘Run Forest Run,’” the soft-spoken Fatony said of his highlight. “That’s pretty much what was going through my head. I don’t really remember it at all — it just kind of happened.”

The run may have ended in a missed field goal by senior kicker Andrew Baggett, but the youngster solidified his importance to a team that is in dire need of an offensive rouse.

In one play, Fatony became the visiting side’s second-leading rusher for the night, after freshman quarterback Drew Lock.

“That was pretty cool to say the least,” Lock said. “Growing up with Corey throughout the summer, just sort of getting to know him, to think that we’d be out here making plays is kind of cool.”

Fatony said he’s played in the running back position one other time: just five snaps as a freshman at Franklin High School, which is a 30-minute drive southwest of Vanderbilt Stadium.

“It was awesome,” Fatony said of having hometown friends in the stands. “I had been to a couple (Vanderbilt games) when I was little. It’s really cool getting to play in here.”

When 5-foot-11, 185-pound Fatony first arrived at Mizzou over the summer, senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers thought the “pretty jacked little kid” was a running back.

Tonight, he might as well have been.

“I had no idea it was coming,” Brothers said after the game. “He’s a tough guy. It was good to see him have a nice time running the ball. He’s already a star — he punts the ball so well and he’s become such an essential part to this team that it’s just crazy. Especially as a freshman.”

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