How Missouri twice had Auburn beat on final plays but flew home with improbable defeat

Butch Dill/AP

Victory was Missouri’s. Twice.

At the end of regulation and in overtime, Mizzou put itself in perfect position to collect a road SEC triumph. Both times, Missouri failed in improbable fashion.

The game ended when running back Nathaniel Peat fumbled into the end zone as he was about to cross the goal line. Auburn defensive end Derick Hall fell on the ball and the overtime game ended with the home team celebrating a gift of an outcome, 17-14.

“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that’s all that went through my head,” Hall said.

No telling what the Missouri Tigers were thinking on their slow shuffle of disbelief to the locker room after the announcement that replay had upheld the call. The unfathomable had happened.

Peat appeared to be shifting the ball from his left to right hand to stretch it over the goal line when he lost the grip. Protect the ball and Peat, the Stanford transfer who went to high school at Columbia Rock Bridge, would have cherished his biggest moment in Missouri uniform.

Instead, he’ll become the subject of a film clip every coach will show their team this week when discussing ball security.

“He was doing everything he could to put the ball in the end zone,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said. “The ball bounced our way.”

A few minutes earlier the ball sailed Auburn’s way. With a minute remaining, Missouri quarterback Brady Cook had delivered a beautiful 39-yard strike to Dominic Lovett who fell out of bounds at the 3.

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz put the game on the foot of kicker Harrison Mevis. The play-calling consisted of two kneel downs to get the ball to the center of the field. With 3 seconds remaining, The strategy was sound. Auburn had to burn their two timeouts, and Mizzou was a leg swing away from a happy plane ride home.

The ball flew outside the right upright. A push shot. Whatever broke down for Mevis in last week’s two-miss game against Abilene Christian isn’t fixed.

Maybe that’s also true for Mizzou’s season. Missouri fell to 2-2, and faces top-ranked Georgia next weekend.

“To lose that way, really twice, just devastating for our locker room and our coaches,” Drinkwitz said. “Just stinks. Hard to take.”

Drinkwitz said he had no second thoughts about the field-goal attempt. It was difficult to second guess much of anything late in the game, as many chances as Mizzou created to win it.

Another opportunity was lost on Auburn’s overtime possession. Missouri’s defense, which held Auburn without a touchdown the final 10 possessions in regulation, could have handed its offense a tied game.

Auburn’s kicker Andres Carlson, who had pulled a field-goal attempt just before halftime, missed one from 44 yards in overtime. But Missouri was offside. Five yards closer, Carlson hit a 39-yarder.

Wasted in defeat was Missouri’s best defensive effort this season. Auburn had been rotating quarterbacks, but injuries left them primarily with mobile Robby Ashford. He engineered touchdown drives on the first two drives, the second a short field burst after an interception.

After that, Missouri flexed. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper contained Ashford, who couldn’t get loose. Auburn didn’t move into Mizzou territory in the second half until its final possession of regulation, and Hopper was the first to arrive at the gang tackle of Tank Bigsby on fourth-and-1 at the 30. That was Hopper’s 10th tackle, third for loss.

Mizzou took over and closed in on the victory. The Cook-Lovett connection, in front of the Missouri fan corner of Jordan-Hare Stadium, had the visiting Tigers thinking road victory.

“I was pretty confident at that point we had it,” Cook said.

To Drinkwitz, Missouri took a step on Saturday. In its last road game, at Kansas State, Mizzou fell behind and the game got out of hand.

At Auburn, a two-touchdown deficit was overcome by halftime, and Mizzou had the better opportunities at the end.

There wasn’t much to say afterwards. Peat and Mevis weren’t made available for interviews. Cook and defensive end Isaiah McGuire emerged from what had to be a devastated locker room to represent the players. There wasn’t much to share.

Go back to work ... It’s in the past, have to focus on the future .. We’re going to watch tape, go back to work and practice, That’s all you can do, go back, correct it, work harder.

“You know, it’s a growing process, right?” Drinkwitz said. “The team’s got to grow. The program’s got to grow. Two weeks ago we got down (20-3) and we didn’t have the same mentality.

“This time we were down 14-0 and put ourselves in a position to win the game twice. So a lot of growth there. Now we have to finish. We’re on to the next stop. Finish. You take the losses, make them into lessons and keep on going.”

The other lesson: Take the victory, especially when the opportunity is presented multiple times.