Missouri falls short of beating ranked opponent again as last-second touchdown squanders defensive gem

The Tigers led 14-3 with under six minutes to go and went the entire second half without picking up a first down.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock takes a snap in the redzone and moves to his right during a play in the second quarter of Missouri's eventual 15-14 loss to Kentucky on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Lock finished the game with 165 yards passing and no touchdowns.

Missouri’s 2018 football season has featured elemental and perhaps biblical intervention, moved through the cruel and beyond the unusual. Somewhere along the way, it landed within the realm of the ironic.

Because after preventing No. 12 Kentucky from tallying an offensive touchdown for 60 minutes and zero seconds, after stuffing the Wildcats’ acclaimed run game three times in crucial fourth-and-short situations, the Tigers’ latest chance at a season-defining win withered down to a single, short-yardage play somewhere within those other, untimed zero seconds. The defense was on the field and responsible for Missouri’s fate. The offense – which had gone the entire second half without a first down – watched from the sideline.

It watched from the sideline as Missouri (4-4, 0-4 SEC) suffered another unthinkable, last-second loss, this time 15-14 on a walk-off touchdown to Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC). Kentucky’s poetic justice was Missouri’s tragic irony. The Tigers are still winless against ranked teams under third-year coach Barry Odom.

“This will be one that you live with forever,” Odom said.

Missouri led for 44 minutes and led 14-3 with under six minutes to play. It had the ball and a 14-9 lead with 1:45 left. It had Kentucky’s struggling offense backed up at its own 12-yard line with close to a minute to go. It still had its opponent 27 yards out of the end zone with nine seconds remaining.

But Kentucky went 81 yards in the last 1:24 for its only offensive touchdown of the afternoon, adding to a 67-yard punt return with 5:18 left. That punt return was just moments after Missouri’s Cale Garrett and Chris Turner combined to stop standout tailback Benny Snell on fourth down at the 1-yard line. It seemed like a game-clinching stop at the time.

“This was the best our defense has played while I’ve been here,” offensive lineman Yasir Durant said.

But almost-clinchers were frequent occurrences for that Missouri defense. Senior linebacker Terez Hall sacked Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson for a loss of seven with time running down, forcing Kentucky’s last timeout. It only had that timeout due to Missouri’s final offensive play call of the game a minute earlier.

Instead, after the sack, a 17-yard pass got the Wildcats to the 10-yard line with four seconds left, then a seemingly incomplete pass was undone by a pass interference call against cornerback DeMarkus Acy in the back of the end zone.

“I’m not sure if im allowed to voice my opinion; I think we get in trouble for that,” senior quarterback Drew Lock said. “But just know I'd be getting in trouble if I voiced my opinion. We’ll put it that way.”

Kentucky received an untimed down from the 2-yard line with all zeros on the clock. The Wildcats had been faced with a fourth-and-2 and two fourth-and-1s earlier in the game. They ran the ball each times, and failed to convert each time. So on this short-yardage winner-take-all play, they went to the air and Wilson completed his sixth pass of the drive for the win.

“It’s easier to be out there on the field and blame yourself,” Lock said. “It’s tough when you sit there and feel for the guys on the field, and you want the best for them and you know you really can't do anything at that time.”

There was plenty of blame to go around for Missouri’s offense, which had eight possessions in the second half. It went three-and-out on all eight. The last of those ended when Odom and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley chose to pass on third-and-2 with 1:41 left. It fell incomplete, allowing Kentucky to preserve its only remaining timeout until it was needed to save the game after Hall’s sack.

Odom defended the decision not to run the ball on the play, and he said the defense didn’t do anything especially conservative on the final Kentucky drive.

“With these kinds of games, sometimes you’re on the good side, sometimes you’re on the bad,” Odom said.

Missouri has found more of a knack for ending up on the bad this season. This is its second loss after leading by double digits, joining the heartbreaker at South Carolina in that department. Teams have rallied from double-digit deficits to tie or take the lead four times this season against the Tigers, and that doesn’t include a near comeback that Memphis conducted from down 21 to get within four.

“I’m tired of learning how to win,” senior offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said. “These games keep happening.”

The Tigers trailed 3-0 after the first quarter, not so much due to poor offense at that point – Lock was 7-for-8 with 92 yards – but rather Kentucky’s slow-paced offense. Tucker McCann had a field goal attempt blocked on Missouri’s first possession, but then Garrett stuffed a fourth-down Kentucky run up the middle. Missouri took the lead on the ensuing possession on a Damarea Crockett two-yard run. Larry Rountree III would later score the Tigers’ other touchdown from the same distance.

But that distance felt miles away by the end of a second half in which the offense totaled 49 yards.

“It’s an awful feeling,” Pendleton said. “Awful feeling.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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