KANSAS CITY — Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert stood at the Kansas 43-yard line in a snowstorm, ready to attempt the biggest kick of his life.
Five seconds later, the field was a sea of white jerseys and blue helmets, completed by a waving Kansas flag.
Wolfert’s kick never had a chance, and the Jayhawks had ultimately survived a 40-37 battle with the Tigers, a battle that came down to the final second.
“We got into a position where I could make that kick,” Wolfert said. “I made the right contact, but someone was in the right place at the right time, and they just got a deflection.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said that Wolfert had to attempt the kick when he did, because even though the Tigers had two timeouts, the risk of running out of time was too great.
“Five seconds is just too risky,” Pinkel said. “We thought we would run out of time and not have a chance. Anything around five seconds, we generally will not run a play. We wanted to have a chance to kick it.”
Missouri got that chance, but the missed kick left the Tigers sharing the blame for their first loss against a team from the Big 12 North since 2006.
“When it comes down to it, you look at a loss like it was your fault,” wide receiver Tommy Saunders said. “That’s how I feel. It was my fault that I didn’t play well enough for our team to win.”
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel felt the same way.
“I had a lot of turnovers, the offense didn’t have any turnovers except me,” he said. “They’re a good defense, they played exceptionally well. You just have to protect the football better.”
That’s not all they’ll have to do better in a week. Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing torched them for 375 yards and four touchdowns, and it took Missouri until the beginning of the third quarter to start playing a strong game. That proved to be the difference when the Tigers ran out of time.
“We just came out kind of slow on either side of the ball,” defensive tackle Jaron Baston said. “Things like that happen at times. I think we did a great job picking it back up.
“(The difference) was just the will to win. I think it’s obvious to anybody we came out to win that game. We didn’t overlook KU, they just came out and played a great game. They did everything they needed to do to beat us, and we came up short.”
The Tigers now have the task of correcting mistakes before what several players said was the biggest game of the season, the Big 12 Championship game against a still-to-be-determined opponent from the South Division.
“Now we have to turn this thing around in 24 hours,” Pinkel said. “They’re (the players) not going to feel good about this for a while, but it’s my job to get it going again. There’s a lot of opportunity out there, and we’re going to work really hard to get there.”
Daniel, who threw for four touchdowns, didn’t even want 24 hours to think about this game. The Tigers’ policy all year has been to spend that amount of time on the previous game, regardless of the result, but Daniel said that would be too long this week.
“There’s no 24-hour rule about this,” he said. “It’s ‘Get over it as soon as you can.’ If you don’t, you’re going to get embarrassed by a great team from the South.”
If the rest of the Tigers share Daniel’s mindset, the fact that they still get to play for the Big 12 title will make it easy to move on from the loss to the Jayhawks.
“We’re in the championship game,” Daniel said. “Not Kansas, not Kansas State, not Baylor, no one else. Would we have liked to keep the momentum up? Yeah, sure. But with the loss, we’re still in the championship game.
“It hurts right now, especially because of Kansas, because of the rivalry game, but we’ve got to get over it real fast. If we don’t, we’re going to get embarrassed.”