COLUMBIA — Most college football players are focused on getting on the field. And when they do get to play, they are focused on playing well enough to be able to keep playing.
Then there’s Jake Harry, who doesn’t want to see the field. He prepares the same way, working hard in case he needs to play. But then he goes up to his teammates and asks them to keep him off the field.
Harry is Missouri’s punter. When he gets on the field, a drive has stalled. When he’s not getting playing time, the offense is scoring points. Against Bowling Green last Saturday, Harry came up with a career-long 69-yard punt that helped give the Tigers better field position and mount a comeback.
Usually, Harry’s way of encouraging his teammates is telling them to keep him off the field.
“It’s kind of like a running joke,” Harry said. “Last year I didn’t punt for two games. I had people come up to me throughout the game and be like, ‘You’re not going to be needed.’”
Early in the team’s game against Bowling Green on Saturday, the offense was having a hard time obliging. Harry had to punt on four of the team’s first five drives. The other drive ended with a turnover.
With the Tigers trailing 13-3 in the second quarter, Harry found a way to help his own cause. A short drive had stalled at the Missouri 12-yard line, forcing Harry to punt from deep in his own territory. That’s when he came up with a career-long 69-yard punt, pinning Bowling Green on its own 19-yard line.
“We had one punt (that) was one of the best punts I’ve ever been associated with since I’ve been coaching,” coach Gary Pinkel said Monday.
As Harry describes it, the play was hardly extraordinary. He didn’t expect it to be his career-long punt until he saw it unfold.
“My first concern was getting the ball off because we were pinned deep,” he said. “And I just looked up, saw the returner turn his shoulder and start running. So I knew it had to be some distance to the punt.”
The defense had been preparing to deal with a Bowling Green offense that would be in favorable field position.
“I was kind of relieved,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “We just kept running and kept running because I didn’t know when the ball was going to fall. It was like 65 in the air, it only got like a 4-yard roll. It could have been like an 80-yard punt.”
The Falcons had to punt on the drive that followed. Their punt was only 39 yards, putting MU at its own 38-yard line, a 26-yard gain from where the team had been when it was forced to punt.
Missouri converted a field goal on the following drive, cutting the deficit to 13-6. Harry was needed only twice the rest of the game. Missouri scored 21 more points, coming back to win the game 27-20.
“That was a huge, game-changing, field position football play,” Pinkel said of Harry’s punt.