COLUMBIA — Missouri athletics director Mike Alden was crouched down on one knee in the south end zone. The fate of the Tigers' 7-0 season was in the balance 100 yards away. A 23-yard Andrew Baggett field goal in double overtime would decide the game.
The kick came off Baggett's foot, and the potential tying points fluttered through the air. Instead of sending Missouri to triple overtime, Baggett shanked the kick off the left upright, his second missed kick of the game. South Carolina made an improbable comeback and got away with a 27-24 win in double overtime.
Alden shot out of his crouched stance, turned to a shocked crowd at Memorial Stadium and shook his head in disbelief.
"That's it," Alden said to no one in particular. "We lost."
Behind Alden, South Carolina players removed their helmets and ran aimlessly around the field. Missouri players headed straight to the locker room, heads hung low as a silenced Memorial Stadium crowd moved toward the exit as quickly as it had filled the bleachers four hours earlier.
Just like that, Missouri's perfect season vanished. The commanding division lead the Tigers had built shrunk to just one game. The run was over, and Baggett couldn't help but feel responsible.
"He's a competitor," Pinkel said. "That's his job. That's his responsibility.
"But it's not one guy here. We all could have done something differently to win that game."
Missouri went to the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead, but South Carolina came storming back. The Gamecocks scored 17 unanswered points to send the game to overtime. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier picked up steam with every play call, and the Gamecocks' offense began eating up chunks of yardage with screen passes and scrambles from quarterback Connor Shaw, who wasn't expected to play with a knee injury but replaced Dylan Thompson in the second half.
"I never once thought we didn't have it," Missouri left tackle Justin Britt said. "Adversity hits."
It hit again in overtime.
After exchanging touchdowns in the first overtime, Missouri's defense held South Carolina to a field goal to start the second extra period. A short Baggett field goal was all the Tigers needed to force a third overtime and keep Memorial Stadium shaking with excitement.
"You can't leave it up to a field goal in overtime," Missouri defensive end Shane Ray said. "It's that simple."
The missed kick was the moment everyone will remember. It was the moment when the shock hit, and last grasp of a perfect season was gone.
"Of course I was hurting," Missouri defensive end Markus Golden said. "This game could have meant a lot to us. We let it slip away."
While South Carolina's players sprinted toward the corner of the south end zone, where a pack of Gamecock fans had already begun a celebration. One South Carolina player waited near the tunnel as Missouri players hustled by, eyes straight ahead.
South Carolina cornerback Victor Hampton delayed his celebration, exchanging a hand shake with any Tiger within his reach.
Unlike a year earlier, when the Gamecocks cruised to a 31-10 win over the Tigers, South Carolina had to earn Saturday night's win. The Gamecocks know it's not over, either. Missouri still holds the East Division lead in the Southeastern Conference.
Next week, Missouri takes on Tennessee at home in another crucial league game. With Saturday's loss, the margin of error becomes slimmer, but the Tigers are still in the hunt for the SEC Championship.
It was easy to forget that in Missouri's locker room after the game. After bursting with emotion following wins over Georgia and Florida, Missouri's locker room was silent.
The loss hung in the air with a weight that could crush the team. But in two days, Missouri would have to get back to work because the next game just got a whole lot bigger.
"This game will not define our season," Britt said. "How we come back from this game will define our season."