Missouri defeats BYU for Gary Pinkel

“I always tell our guys, you never know when greatness is around the corner,” Gary Pinkel said. “You keep working hard and you never know when greatness all of the sudden just flips.”
Missouri Tigers fans hold up a sign supporting Gary Pinkel at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Mizzou beat Brigham Young, 20-16.

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The oval-shaped jumbotrons captured coach Gary Pinkel’s overt reaction to the referees following an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Missouri’s freshman wide receiver Cam Hilton in the third quarter.

“What did he do?” Pinkel asked, arms extended, eyebrow tilted.

That passion, that intensity and that ability to vouch for his players in the most critical moments is what will earn Pinkel a statue at the university he’s called home since his hiring in 2000. That’s also what produced a 20-16 win against Brigham Young in Kansas City Saturday night.

Underlying the tumultuous and eventful week that Pinkel and his Mizzou football players endured — from the moment Anthony Sherrils tweeted in support of Jonathan Butler to the announcement of his retirement after the 2015-16 season — were themes of agony, unity and victory that encompassed the reason college athletics exist.

Saturday night was different for the mid-Missouri football program. Facing BYU at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, debuting a stormtrooper-esque jersey and creating an outlet for the 30,000-plus students at the Columbia campus were all different.

But the play-calling wasn’t, the NCAA’s 11th-best defense wasn’t and neither were the fans’ reactions when the clock hit zero and the Tigers circled around Pinkel, celebrating.

“Because of the week, (this win) will be up there forever,” said Pinkel. “I’m very, very proud of our football team. With all the adversity and all the things that went down, and how (the players) stayed focused to play and compete and come back and battle through that football game, I was very happy for them.”

The game began similarly to the other nine played this year: with a struggling offense and a fan base ready to explode at the sight of their Tigers nearing the end zone. After an opening three-and-out and a drive that ended in a fumble lost by sophomore running back Ish Witter, senior kicker Andrew Baggett placed Mizzou on the board with a 23-yard field goal.

BYU responded with a field goal of its own early in the second quarter, but the running game and first down completions converted by freshman quarterback Drew Lock led to another Baggett field goal — his second of the day — as Missouri waltzed into halftime leading 6-3.

Kicking to BYU to open the second half, the Tigers attempted to detach themselves from their second half struggles. It’d been four games since Missouri scored in the second half, but a Lock spiral to sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore in the corner of the end zone to begin the fourth quarter silenced that stigma.

Another touchdown, a 1-yard run by Tyler Hunt in fourth, capped off the win and a week that challenged a team’s will.

“We were together through the whole entire thing — everybody on this team,” junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “Never in my life have I ever dreamed of something like (this week). You know, we stuck together, and I think it showed out there tonight.”

Pinkel was the glue this past week. You could see it in his eyes postgame with his wife, his athletic director and his grandchildren watching. You could see it in his passion out on the turf. You could see it when the players circled around him and he danced, or whatever you call his moves.

During Friday’s meeting, Scherer said he cried. So too did Moore, the man who spearheaded the team’s boycott.

“I was hurt (when he told his the news),” said Moore. “I kind of teared up because it was Coach Pinkel and you know, we all love Coach Pinkel. Hearing that was really tough.”

Everybody was engaged emotionally in the night that’ll almost certainly go down as one of the most iconic in the football program’s history. As the fans be began to chant “Ga-ry, Pin-kel” from their seats, his impact on the university became near palpable.

Sophomore cornerback Anthony Sherrils said postgame he came to Missouri for Pinkel. Senior center Evan Boehm said he wouldn’t be “here” without his coach. Former player Jeremy Maclin tweeted, “One of the best human beings I have ever been around! Praying for you and your family coach.”

Pinkel might not say it, but throughout his 15 years of coaching, this week meant the most to him and his family — the entire Missouri family.

In a letter to Pinkel, former wide receiver T.J. Moe wrote on Saturday, “Thank you for showing me what it looks like to be a man. You taught us that regardless of circumstances, regardless of what we felt like, regardless of adversity, our job was to fight like hell and find a way to be successful.”

In wearing the black and gold as a student, as a player or as a coach, that mindset stands true. And Pinkel has embodied that every step of the way.

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