Ray’s romp regals Tigers

73-yard fumble return secures MU’s dramatic Cotton Bowl win.
Senior lineman Nick Monaghan Celebrates after Missouri's victory over Oklahoma State at the AT&T Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX on Friday, Jan. 3.

ARLINGTON, Texas — After a fourth quarter of rapid movement, white and gold jerseys bouncing off one another like colliding particles in a science lab, there was finally calm.

Well, almost.

Sophomore defensive end Shane Ray rumbled 73 yards while Oklahoma State’s sideline stood stark still as Ray dove into an end zone of black and gold diamonds.

Ray scooped up a fumble forced by senior defensive end Michael Sam moments earlier and dashed westward toward the goal, giving the No. 8 Tigers (12-2, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) a nine-point lead with 55 seconds to play in the 78th AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday. Sophomore Kicker Andrew Baggett would make it 10 the very next play.

“Just all the drama you don’t want as a coach in the fourth quarter, we had,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

The No. 13 Cowboys (10-3, 7-2 Big 12) and Tigers exchanged the lead twice in the final 15 minutes and tied the game two more times. In a contest that proved stagnant through the first half and third quarter, the fourth was a shaken bottle of champagne.

Sam’s strip-sack popped the cork on Mizzou’s 12th win, Pinkel’s 102nd MU win — a school record — and the school’s 15th bowl victory.

“You get games like that; I would hope the Cotton Bowl liked that game,” Pinkel said. “When you win ‘em, it’s great. When you lose ‘em, it just tears your guts out as a competitor.”

A throng of orange on AT&T Stadium’s north concourse came to life in the second half as the Cowboys broke a 30-minute scoreless stretch with two minutes to play in the third quarter. Quarterback Clint Chelf connected with receiver Jhajuan Seales for 21 yards to cut the Mizzou lead to three.

Four minutes later kicker Ben Grogan tied the game at 17 with a 25-yard field goal. Suddenly the 175-foot dangling jumbotron was no longer the sole provider of energy.

From there, a tug of war on the scoreboard ensued until junior tailback Henry Josey ran in a 16-yard touchdown to give Missouri a 34-31 advantage.

But Chelf led OSU on an 11-play, 52-yard drive to the Missouri 23. On third-and-seven Sam brought pressure from the right, and Chelf rolled left and stepped up in the pocket. He made is move too late.

The first team All-American grabbed Chelf around the hips and swatted the ball in the process. All hell broke loose.

“I was trying to get rid of it, about to throw it away, and I don’t know what happened,” Chelf said. “Bad ball security.”

Ray was right on the scene. Nudged by fellow linemen Kony Ealy and Harold Brantley, he lunged toward the loose ball and out-gassed the Oklahoma State offensive line to the outside.

Chelf lay on the ground motionless, as if he was still tangled in Sam’s arms. Right tackle Chris Grisbhy, the closest Cowboy to the play, ceased his chased and walked to the bench. At once Ray’s gallop stomped out the tantrum of OSU spirit and ignited Missouri’s.

“I started screaming and chased him all the way into the end zone,” said senior linebacker Andrew Wilson, awarded the game’s most outstanding defensive player.

Pinkel said he initially wanted Ray to just fall on the football instead of attempting a return for fear of bobbling the ball out of bounds.

“I was mad for about two yards after he picked it up and started running with it,” he said. “I reevaluated myself. I thought it was a good idea what he did.”

Once Baggett trotted on for the point after, Pinkel had something else for which to thank Sam: a cold Gatorade shower.

“It’s always great when that happens because that means your football team has done a lot of significant things,” he said.

On this night, now the early morning of Jan. 4, his football team secured a top-5 BCS ranking and its second Cotton Bowl in six years.

“How about them Tigers?” Pinkel growled in a soaking sweater vest, trophy in hand. “Now I got that trophy. I’m going to have it forever.”

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