COLUMBIA — Hoarse yells. Closed eyes. Whispered prayers.
The Missouri sideline was a frantic mix of nerves and excitement in the final two minutes of the team’s game against San Diego State on Saturday.
With just two minutes remaining in the game, the Aztecs kicked a field goal to put them ahead 24-20. Time was running out for Missouri, but coach Gary Pinkel and his players never became completely discouraged. Instead, they resorted to different sideline routines as the clock ticked down.
“I don’t ever lose faith,” Pinkel said. “I don’t ever just sit there, never. But, the reality was things weren’t going real well.”
The offense, which Pinkel said was out of sync throughout the game, relied on the defense to make the stops necessary to keep the Tigers in the game. Wide receiver T.J. Moe’s voice was a raspy whisper by the time the game was over. He said he spent most of the second half screaming on the side of the field, cheering as loudly as he could for his defense.
In the final minutes of the game, though, the defense was powerless. It was their turn to offer support.
As quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Moe and the rest of the offense took the field for their final drive of the game, defensive end Aldon Smith and defensive back Kevin Rutland stood behind Pinkel, bellowed cheers of encouragement at their teammates.
The four-point deficit meant the offense needed to score a touchdown. Pinkel said that he was pacing the sideline, evaluating the game in his head.
“Well, it wasn’t very good,” Pinkel said. “But honestly, the players, they just kept thinking there was a chance. I thought there was a chance if we’d just get the ball back and have an opportunity.”
Pinkel said that the team has worked on two-minute offense throughout the season, and Moe agreed that they are well-trained in what to do in such high-pressure situations.
But for some, the pressure was too much. Linebacker Andrew Gachkar, reacted differently to the situation. After completing eight tackles on the night, Gachkar knew that it was up to the offense to decide the end of the game.
He couldn't watch. As he sat on the sideline, he put his head down and ignored the game. When Moe caught Gabbert’s pass and began his 68-yard trip to the end zone, Gachkar looked up only when he heard the crowd begin to roar.
“I was on the side with my head down, kind of praying to myself, just one of those deals,” Gachkar said. “I didn’t even see it until he (Moe) made the jukes."
At that moment, Moe was doing some praying of his own.
“At about the 20-yard line, I started thanking Jesus,” he said. “As in, thanks for giving me this ability and saving my butt, because I didn’t play very well in the first half.”
As dire as the situation might have seemed on the sidelines, Pinkel said he knew his team was capable of pulling out the win. After four seasons of at least eight victories, Pinkel said the Tigers are accustomed to winning, and that teams of four or five years might not have had the drive to do so.
“They never bent,” Pinkel said. “They just kept believing they had a chance.”