COLUMBIA - It took seven plays for Missouri's Senior Day to unravel.
After placekicker Andrew Baggett made a 46-yard field goal to make the score 27-24 Missouri on Saturday night inside Memorial Stadium, Syracuse took over possession on its own 19-yard line with 1:52 remaining in the game.
One by one, Missouri’s seniors took the field before Saturday’s game against Syracuse, hugging their coaches and passing through two lines of teammates en route to their family, who were waiting for them at midfield.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was tied for the team lead with 70 tackles going into the game, wasn’t among them.
Richardson didn’t appear on the field at all on Saturday, after reportedly being suspended for the game for violating team rules. Redshirt senior Jimmy Burge started in his place.
Early in the game, Richardson took to Twitter, posting a photo that had been sent to him by an unnamed teammate. In the photo, the teammate was shown wearing a strip of white tape. On the tape, a simple message was written in black marker – “SR34.”
Later, after Syracuse had scored the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the game, Richardson - whose Twitter handle is "Godforshort" - tweeted again, this time simply posting "Wtf!!!!!"
After the game, when asked if the Missouri defensive line had missed Richardson's presence, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel simply said, "No." He also gave no update on Richardson's status for next week's game against Texas A&M.
Richardson's teammates also had little to say regarding their absent playmaker.
T.J. Moe wouldn't address the subject, saying, “You’re not getting an answer from me, dude.”
Kip Edwards dodged the question as well.
“Who cares if Sheldon plays? We don’t need Sheldon to win ballgames," Edwards said. "This is a team in there. Sheldon is an individual. It takes a team to win ballgames, not an individual. Next question.”
From there, Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib and receiver Alec Lemon took it upon themselves to end Missouri's Senior Day on a sour note.
Nassib completed a pass across the middle to Lemon for 27 yards. On the next play, the two connected for 18 more yards. On fourth down and 10 from Missouri's 36-yard line, Lemon came wide open down the right sideline. Add on 19 more yards.
Predictably, Nassib only needed one more play to hit Lemon for a 13-yard touchdown.
Nassib and Lemon connected on four passes in the final drive, resulting in a season-altering score.
Syracuse walked away with the victory, 31-27.
After the game, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel looked back on the final Syracuse touchdown, in which Lemon came uncovered down the right sideline and reached the end zone with ease.
Somehow, the guy who finished the game with 244 receiving yards and two touchdowns was all alone on the right sideline, standing wide, wide open.
“We had a mixup in coverage, and they scored,” Pinkel said, refusing to elaborate.
After Missouri jumped out to a 17-3 lead early in the game, it was surprising that Syracuse was even in a position to win near the end.
On the fourth play of the game, quarterback James Franklin turned to his left and threw a lateral pass to Dorial Green-Beckham, who had a few blockers creating a seal in front of him. He burst through the open crease and took off, finding nothing but open green grass as he sped 70 yards down the left sideline and into the end zone, giving Missouri an early 7-0 lead.
The crowd erupted as they watched Green-Beckham glide down the sideline. A Missouri fan wearing bright red pajamas stood on the hill in front of Missouri’s student section, stomping his feet and pumping his fist enthusiastically as he yelled.
Franklin found more success on Missouri’s second drive, completing all six of the passes he attempted – with the last one being a 30-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Jimmie Hunt. In all, Franklin threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury in the fourth quarter.
As Missouri widened the lead, Syracuse’s mascot, “Otto the Orange,” stomped around the southwest sidelines, seemingly unaware that a football game was going on behind him. The Orange wore an oversized blue baseball cap and walked in laps around his team’s cheerleaders, swinging his arms, spinning in circles and skipping as he went on his merry way.
Syracuse gave Otto a reason to cheer near the end of the second quarter, as Nassib led the Orange on a 75-yard scoring drive, ending in a one-yard touchdown run by running back Prince-Tyson Gulley.
After a scoreless third quarter, Syracuse scored again less than a minute into the fourth, when Nassib threw a 13-yard touchdown to Lemon. Lemon caught the ball, sprinted up the right sideline and dived, knocking the outstretched football into the right pylon.
Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence later ran for a touchdown, which was quickly matched by Syracuse running back Jerome Smith. From there, Baggett hit the field goal to put Missouri up, 27-24.
That's when it all fell apart.
Missouri cornerback Kip Edwards isn't sure what happened on Syracuse's final touchdown, the one that sealed his team's fate. All he saw was No. 15 run into the end zone, totally alone.
“All I saw was 15 in the end zone with 20 seconds left," Edwards said. "You don’t have a great shot of winning with 20 seconds left. We came up on the short end.”
After the game ended, many of the players' family members and friends huddled in the tunnel outside the south side of Memorial Stadium, waiting to console the defeated players.
Senior defensive end Brad Madison chatted with a friend, his cheeks red and his eyes watery. T.J. Moe was approached by two young girls, who he gladly stood with for a picture. Another boy approached him, only about half Moe's size, and yelled, "High five!"
Moe slapped his hand, his mouth widening into a grin.
Freshman receiver Levi Copelin hugged senior fullback Jared McGriff-Culver, whispering words of encouragement into the ear of the guy who had just played his final game on Faurot Field.
Despite the seven plays that might have gone a long way to end a seven-year bowl streak, Missouri's players could at least take comfort in family and friends.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.