SHREVEPORT, La. — For Trey Hobson, the most interesting play of the Missouri football team's 41-24 Independence Bowl victory over North Carolina happened in slow motion.
The action of the play, a roundabout interception in the first half by Tigers linebacker Zaviar Gooden that gave Missouri the momentum for good, did indeed seem slowed down.
It wasn’t anywhere as graceful as “The Matrix,” though.
North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones led the Tar Heels with 1,173 yards this season and had an impressive touchdown catch on North Carolina’s first drive, jumping above Missouri corner E.J. Gaines in the right corner of the end zone.
But when North Carolina got the ball back with 5 minutes left in the half, behind 24-7 and its chances slipping away, Jones did not help matters.
On first and 10, Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner threw to Jones 25 yards down the left sideline. Missouri was playing a basic Cover 2 defense, and Jones’ quick first step allowed him to avoid getting jammed by Missouri cornerback Trey Hobson at the line of scrimmage.
Jones stopped at the Missouri 40-yard line a few feet from the Missouri players on the sideline. Safety Kenronte Walker was fast approaching, but Jones looked in position to make the catch.
What followed was the most entertaining drop of the day, not including Truman the Tiger’s trophy mishap before the game.
The ball hit Jones’ chest and went into his cupped hands. The ball was slick because of the heavy rain earlier in the game, but in this case, it looked like Jones was playing a one-man game of hot potato.
Hobson was caught behind Jones, but Walker stuck his hand between Jones’ and swatted the ball upwards. Jones continued to bobble the ball but finally lost whatever control he had maintained.
As he twisted away, Hobson got both hands on the ball. He, too, could not secure it, and he tipped it back toward Jones.
Jones now had his head down and was bent over so that his back was nearly flat. The falling football hit it and momentarily paused. Jones had about as much control of the ball as he had a second before.
“It was like it was sitting on his back,” Gooden said. “I guess he didn’t really know where it was.”
Later, Gooden said he had no clue how far he was from the play, but he certainly wasn’t close when the football first landed in Jones’ hands. He is constantly told to run to wherever the ball is, though, and he listened. By the time the ball rolled off Jones’ back, he was yards away.
Gooden dove as the ball fell below Jones’ knees. Gooden said when the ball was “literally inches” from the turf, he scooped his hands underneath it. Unlike the others, Gooden held on.
“Coach always tells us to run to the ball,” he said. “I was so happy I was there for it.”
His teammates on the sideline jumped around him in celebration, their black raincoats flapping.
“It looked like the ball was on top of his back for like 10 seconds,” linebacker Andrew Wilson said. “It was awesome.”
The referees reviewed the interception, saying they wanted to see if it hit the turf. No one could blame them if they just wanted to watch the play again.
“No doubt,” safety Kenji Jackson said. “It was really goofy.”