ATHENS, Ga. — Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson thought he was going to look like an idiot.
The 18-point, halftime lead Missouri had built against Georgia had shrunk to just two points. The 92,000-plus fans packed into Sanford Stadium were growing louder with each second that ticked off the clock. Starting quarterback James Franklin had just exited the game with a shoulder injury, and Henson dialed up his gutsiest play call of the season.
The Tigers call it "Colt 45." Quarterback Maty Mauk threw the ball to wide receiver Bud Sasser, who scrambled toward the sideline, red jerseys closing in on him. L'Damian Washington was streaking down the sideline, covered tightly by Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins.
With each millisecond that Sasser held the ball, Henson's nerves heightened. Then the wide receiver became a quarterback, leaning back and lofting a wobbly pass through the air toward Washington, who was a few strides from the end zone.
Washington was surprised to see the ball coming toward him, but he trusted it would get there. He jumped in the air, accompanied by Wiggins, and out-muscled the cornerback for the ball, hitting the grass with his second touchdown of the day and the decisive play in Missouri's 41-24 win over No. 7 Georgia.
"Fourteen things could go wrong," Henson said. "They all flashed through my head right after I called the play. It's a dangerous call."
"But I felt like we had to be aggressive to score and go win the game."
Henson didn't look like an idiot. Instead, he was a genius for wanting to call something different, simply because they wanted different results.
"It's a great call, because it worked," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel joked after the game.
The Tigers hadn't scored a single point the entire second half. Georgia was blazing up and down the field on offense, poised to take the lead with one more stalled Missouri drive.
The game was starting to resemble the 2012 matchup between the two teams, when Missouri let a late lead slip away in a lopsided loss. Missouri's streak of road losses to top-10 teams, which dated to 1981 before Saturday's win, seemed to have life. And those saying Missouri couldn't compete in the Southeastern Conference were patting themselves on the back.
Instead of rolling over when the game was unraveling in rapid fashion, Missouri silenced the rowdy Bulldog fans with one play, improving its record to 6-0, 2-0 in the SEC, and thrusted itself right into the thick of the race for a division title in the SEC East.
"We've been tested by fire now," senior guard Max Copeland said. "You can only have that stuff revealed in this kind of situations. You can practice and you can train so much, but it's these kinds of moments when you're tested."
The win didn't come without loss, though. As Missouri players jogged off the field, an emptying crowd around them, Franklin trailed behind.
Wearing a sling on his separated right throwing shoulder, Missouri's quarterback could barely pick his head up to look at the Tiger fans greeting the team at the tunnel. All he could muster was a thumbs-up toward the crowd as he disappeared into the locker room, a grimace on his face, not knowing when he would play again.
Missouri also lost cornerback E.J. Gaines to a quad injury. Pinkel would not speculate on the severity of either injury after the game.
"When somebody gets hurt, we know we have to plug the next guy in and keep moving," defensive end Kony Ealy said.
With Missouri ready to take its celebration from the field to the locker room, the last of the Georgia fans in the stands hurled inaudible insults toward Missouri's players as they trotted of the field, laughing and smiling. The fans' faces grew redder as they attempted to be heard over the sound of the band.
Ealy had a simple response. He placed his helmet on the field, put his hands in the shape of a "W" and pointed them at the crowd, not saying a word, just smiling.
The Tigers couldn't help but enjoy the win and relish in the success they've had thus far in 2013. The visiting locker room became a site for jubilation as Missouri's players filled the surrounding area with sounds of shouting and laughter.
With a home game against Florida on the horizon, the work is far from over, but Missouri finally had its first major win its new conference, and it felt good.
That's why Washington, who finished with 115 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including the crucial score in the fourth quarter, leaned back while running off the field and let out the frustration that has been building in the Missouri locker room since last season.
"Tell me that win ain't good enough!" Washington shouted.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.