A few trick plays were all Missouri needed to stop 25 years of frustration.
The final ploy, a 14-yard pass from holder Sonny Riccio to tight end Victor Sesay on a fourth-quarter faked field goal, gave the Tigers the lead for good.
MU beat Nebraska 41-24 in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday to break a 24-game losing streak to the No. 10 Huskers.
In front of 68,349 fans, the Tigers improved to 5-1, 1-1 in the Big 12 Conference. Nebraska fell to 5-1, 1-1.
The Tigers’ play calling flipped 180 degrees from its first five games, for MU ran a throwback screen and reversed a kickoff return in addition to its faked field goal. Each play led to a score.
With 11:21 left in the fourth quarter, Missouri trailed Nebraska 24-21. Kicker Mike Matheny lined up for a 32-yard field goal, but when the snap came to Riccio, he picked it up and ran to the right. Riccio had originally looked for tight end Clint Matthews but saw Sesay in the back right of the end zone.
“I knew as soon as it left my hand,” Riccio said. “We were pretty confident, we worked on it all last week and this week, so we were pretty confident we were going to convert it.”
The Tigers scored 27 fourth-quarter points in a game where the lead switched four times.
Quarterback Brad Smith gained 350 total yards, including 47 yards receiving on a pass from former quarterback Darius Outlaw, and tied the school mark with four touchdowns.
With the score tied at 7 in the second quarter, Smith threw a lateral pass to Outlaw, then ran to the left sideline. Outlaw passed the ball back to Smith, who ran 47 yards to give MU a 14-7 lead. The Tigers took a 14-10 lead into the half.
“We had it set up to where we were going to run it first, and I wasn’t going to throw it back, but Coach C (offensive coordinator Dave Christensen) was feeling good today,” Outlaw said. “When you’re throwing back to a playmaker like Brad Smith, you can’t help but to meet him in the end zone.”
Nebraska led 24-14 in the third quarter when Tyrone Roberson handed the ball to freshman wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu on the kickoff. The Tigers started with the ball on their 42, and four plays later, Smith darted through Nebraska defenders for a 39-yard touchdown run.
“We did a lot of things out there,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “We had a reverse, a throwback screen, the reverse on the kickoff. We did a lot of different things but we thought against this great defense we had to do those things.”
The Tigers scored the most points of any of Nebraska’s opponents this season. The Huskers came into the game with the No. 1 defense in the country.
Nebraska coach Frank Solich said the tricks, especially the faked field goal, changed the game.
“I thought we had people in position to possibly play it,” Solich said. “When those kind of things go for you, and they backfire on you, that’s tough. They certainly swung the momentum around in the fourth quarter, but that was the play that did it.”
Nebraska helped the Tigers with their redemption win after an embarrassing loss at Kansas two weeks ago by fumbling four times, including once on a punt return and once on a kickoff return.
“I told my wife the other night, ‘I’m tired of watching people upsetting other people,”’ Pinkel said. “I was getting tired of it. I was really, really frustrated.”
In the first quarter, junior Brock Harvey’s 52-yard punt bounced off senior I-back Josh Davis’ numbers and through his arms. Senior tailback Zack Abron scored on a 6-yard run two plays later, carrying linebacker Barrett Ruud and safety Philip Bland with him across the goal line.
MU linebacker James Kinney led the defense, forcing one fumble and recovering two more.
At the end of the game, Missouri’s black-clad fans rushed the field, and Nebraska fans rushed for the exits. The south goal post uprights came down in about 30 seconds.
The sounds from the Tigers’ locker room and on the field were almost deafening. MU players said they will remember the win for a long time.
“I’ve been waiting for a win like this for five years,” Outlaw said. “Top 10 team, No. 1 defense … we just went and played ball.”