SAN ANTONIO — William Moore raced off the field, holding aloft the ball he swatted to the turf seconds earlier, earning the defensive unit he had so aggressively defended at least a slice of respect, a final image that left a sweet taste in Missouri fan's mouths, rather than the bitterness of memorable failures weeks earlier.
As the confetti and balloons rained around them inside the Alamodome, the Tigers celebrated a 30-23 overtime win over Northwestern, a jubilant finale to a season that perhaps never matched the hype surrounding its bright beginnings.
The demons hadn't gone absent. The criticisms were well-founded. Past mistakes remained unaccounted for.
Just as they did four months earlier in their season opener, Missouri's secondary could only watch as opposing receivers celebrated long touchdown passes, each defensive miscue growing in impact as the game wore on.
But just as he did against the Illini, junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon provided the late heroics, this time with a sack of Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher for a loss of 23 yards that put the Wildcats an unlikely Hail Mary away from victory.
"During the course of the game, we called a certain blitz, and we came off the edge very well each time we ran it," Weatherspoon said. "There in overtime, Coach called a blitz and me and William Moore came off the edge and met at the quarterback."
There was no 300-yard, three-touchdown performance from senior quarterback Chase Daniel in his final game as a Tiger. However, he will gladly forget the 3 in his interception column to earn the Tigers a 10 in the win column.
"To leave Coach Pinkel with a win that he'll always remember this senior class by is something that I cherish very deeply in my heart," Daniel said.
But the earlier mistakes weren't limited to just Daniel and the secondary. Veterans and newcomers alike frustrated a stone-faced Gary Pinkel on the sideline. Forget whether the defense was in Cover Two or Cover Three and who was blitzing and who was in coverage.
In their place were Moore, a senior, and Brian Coulter, a junior, not being able to line up on the correct side of the line of scrimmage on two consecutive plays, and senior captain Tommy Saunders inadvertently stepping out of bounds on a pass route before catching a pass from Daniel, drawing a flag. Not to mention following up the miscue with an uncharacteristic third-down drop to end a Tigers second-quarter drive.
Pinkel, however, said he was pleased with the defense's performance.
"We got in that fourth quarter and got a couple stops, back-to-back stops, one we didn't do anything with," Pinkel said. "I think you just take two big plays away, and it was a really outstanding performance by our defense."
Monday's game likely inspired déjà vu. Missouri fans might as well have watched highlights of the Tigers' season on YouTube instead of Monday night's Alamo Bowl. A Maclin punt return for a score. A pair of catches by Chase Coffman that had coaches and fans alike shaking their heads in wonder one last time at the 6-foot-7 tight end and Mackey Award winner. Not to mention three more Chase Daniel interceptions, one coming off a pass that unluckily tipped off receiver Jeremy Maclin's hands into the arms of Northwestern safety Brian Peters.
And no mention of the Tigers' season would be complete without the secondary giving up a long touchdown pass, and it obliged three times.
Senior kicker Jeff Wolfert rewrote perhaps the most important part of the script, failing to duplicate his winning kick against Baylor back on Nov. 1.
"Everybody on our sideline knew that Wolf was going to make that, he does it all the time," Pinkel said. "And I thought we got it together really quick right after that."
But with a reception over the middle to put the Tigers up for good in overtime, with Maclin erasing what could have otherwise been a painful cap to the season that wasn't.
"What better way is there to go out, than to play more football?" Daniel said.