COLUMBIA — Henry Josey had a gaping hole in the middle of Texas A&M's defensive line, and he didn't hesitate for a second.
It was as if Josey had never torn every major ligament in his left knee or gone 22 months between playing games before the 2013 season. Running without a brace and with the same speed and burst as ever, the running back who wasn't guaranteed another down after a gruesome knee injury in 2011 was the hero in Missouri's 28-21 win over Texas A&M on Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson hoped the play would get the two yards needed for a first down. Instead, Josey ran 57 yards for a touchdown and helped Missouri clinch the Southeastern Conference East Division crown and ensure a spot in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn.
Josey sprinted to the end zone, gaining more ground on Texas A&M's helpless defenders with each stride. He crossed the goal line, leaned back, and let out a howl that got lost in the roar of the sellout crowd of 67,124 at Memorial Stadium.
"When he scored the touchdown, it went to a whole new level," Pinkel said.
From afar, Josey seemed like an unlikely hero. Just like Missouri seemed like an unlikely candidate for the SEC Championship Game. But Josey's 13th touchdown of the season and 96 yards rushing couldn't have been a more fitting cap to the biggest win on Faurot Field in more than half a century.
"It's really special," Missouri quarterback James Franklin said. "I think of Henry as a senior. I've been with him since the beginning. I thought it was really cool that he got to have that run."
After stopping Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M's offense one final time in the fourth quarter, Missouri's offense ran the clock down. A kneeldown from Franklin ended the game, and Missouri's fans joined the players on the field in celebration.
It wasn't that beating Texas A&M was such a shock, it was that beating Texas A&M and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to get to the SEC Championship Game couldn't have been a bigger shock after Missouri's inaugural season in the conference ended with a 59-29 loss to Texas A&M and a 5-7 record.
The win sets the stage for the SEC Championship Game nobody predicted. Missouri won two conference games in 2012, Auburn didn't win any. In January, Missouri's seniors vowed to be a team that would be remembered.
"You have twelve that’s guaranteed," senior wide receiver L'Damian Washington said. "That’s it. Why would you aim to be average? Nobody average is ever remembered. You have to aim big."
Franklin said he didn’t think Missouri’s game against Texas A&M would define his legacy. At least, he hoped it wouldn’t. The soft-spoken senior quarterback thought about the idea and realized he wanted Missouri fans to look at his body of work and not one game when remembering his three-year run as the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
Deep down, though, he must have known it would come down to this. His 35-touchdown sophomore season, his injury-riddled, let-down junior season, and his turnaround senior year would all be remembered by this game. Matched up head-to-head with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Franklin was the best quarterback on Faurot Field.
Despite a slow start, Missouri's offense came through when it mattered. Franklin led the Tigers to 21 second-half points. He picked up yards with his arms and his legs, finishing with over 300 total yards and two touchdowns.
"You have to win in November to be remembered," Washington said. "You have to win in the clutch. Once November hits, it's playoff football. That's all that matters."
Time and time again, Missouri found a way to hit Johnny Football, too. They hit him in the first quarter, making it hard for him to get comfortable. They hit him late in the first half, making Manziel show significant pain. Manziel peeled himself off the turf on Faurot Field every time, but the Tigers kept coming. Even though Manziel completed more than 70 percent of his passes and didn’t turn the ball over, Missouri sacked him twice and hit him eight times. Manziel had under 200 yards passing.
"You could just see his frustration a little bit because he's such a great competitor," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said after the game.
The celebration continued on the field long after the final whistle had sounded. Security guarded the goal posts, but the party was well underway on Faurot Field. Ray Charles' voice boomed over the speakers while thousands of fans celebrated with the players on the field. Others stood from the stands, staring in disbelief. Charles sang simply and softly. After 11 wins and a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, Charles' message rang true for Missouri.
"Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind," Charles sang.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.
VIDEO: Fans rush Faurot Field after win.