Hunt’s big catch sparks Tigers to division title

Hunt finished with five catches for 61 yards and the tying touchdown.
Missouri Tigers wide receiver Jimmie Hunt (88) celebrates with a fan after a 21-14 Missouri victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks Friday, Nov. 28, 2014 at Memorial Stadium at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.

Jimmie Hunt felt he owed it to his teammates.

Before he was streaking down the Missouri sideline, he’d dropped what was a sure touchdown for No. 17 Missouri in the first quarter of the Tigers’ Friday game against Arkansas. Instead, Mizzou eventually settled for a field goal.

So when Hunt sprinted down the sideline as the only wide receiver on the weak side of a three-wide receiver formation for Mizzou and saw a safety favoring the other side of the field, he decided it was redemption time.

He made eye contact with Mizzou sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.

“He looked at me and I looked him, and I knew it was on from there,” Hunt said.

Mauk and Hunt connected for 44 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Mauk hit senior receiver Bud Sasser with another great throw for 28 of 127 receiving yards on the day. And a couple of snaps after that, Mauk threw to Hunt on a fade route for a score — the first touchdown Arkansas had given up since Nov. 1 against Mississippi State.

Mizzou used its next offensive possession to orchestrate a 12-play, 85-yard drive that finished with senior running back Marcus Murphy scampering 12 yards to the end zone.

Murphy’s run gave Mizzou a lead it would never relinquish in its 21-14 victory over the Razorbacks (6-6, 2-6 Southeastern Conference), sending Missouri (10-2, 7-1) to its second consecutive conference title game as SEC East champions.

“All of the sudden, the whole momentum of the game changed,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

He added: “I just think it got contagious.”

The Tigers ran the ball for all 85 of the yards on that crucial drive, helping Murphy and junior running back Russell Hansbrough finish with a combined 149 yards on 31 carries. It’s a final stat line that seemed unlikely after the game’s first two quarters, in which they rushed for just 15 yards on 10 carries.

“Once we caught the ball, it never stopped rolling,” Murphy said, referring to Hunt’s catch.

The only scoring offense Mizzou mustered in the first half came from kicker Andrew Baggett, who, a week after missing two extra points at Texas A&M, made field goals from 52 and 50 yards out, becoming the first Missouri kicker to convert twice from 50-plus yards in a single game.

Arkansas jumped ahead of the Tigers in the first half, 14-6. But after the Razorbacks’ first offensive possession of the game, an 11-play, 70-yard drive that finished in one of two touchdown passes by quarterback Brandon Allen, the Razorback offense didn’t look convincing.

Arkansas only had to move the ball 31 yards on its second-quarter touchdown drive, and never scored after that.

Allen was just six for 20 in the second half. The Razorbacks never got the ball past the Missouri 31-yard line following halftime.

When Arkansas looked like it was gearing up to challenge on its final possession, the drive ended with junior linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who registered 11 tackles, stripping the ball from running back Alex Collins. Senior defensive end Markus Golden, who had two tackles for a loss and one forced fumble of his own, recovered the football.

“Today, man — it don’t get no better than this,” Golden said.

Arkansas’ star running backs, Collins and Jonathan Williams, finished with 131 yards on 27 carries.

Minutes after Collins’ fumble, Mauk, who passed for 265 yards and a touchdown, kneeled with the ball. The clock bled down and fans rushed the field.

Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” played from the Memorial Stadium speakers as fans chanted “SEC” and “We Want Bama.”

Team members said between Mississippi State and Alabama, they don’t have a preference for who Missouri will play in the conference championship.

That’ll be determined by the outcome of Saturday’s games. For now, the Tigers celebrate.

“I’m just trying to make it through the evening,” Pinkel said. “I couldn’t even say ‘SEC East champion.’ I just started mumbling.”

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