SHREVEPORT, La. -- One last time, Missouri was able to count on Brad Smith. And, yet another time, the greatest offensive producer the school has ever seen came through.
Smith ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns, including a 1-yarder with 2:13 left in the game and Missouri erased a 21-0 deficit to beat South Carolina 38-31 in the 2005 Independence Bowl.
“He didn’t have a very good first quarter,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “…but you could see him come down and drive his team back.
“I don’t think you could write a better story for finishing his career.”
South Carolina didn’t force Missouri to punt in the second half and scored only three points itself. The Tigers tied the game at 28 on a 4-yard run from Smith and then took the lead with Adam Crossett’s 50-yard field goal, a career long.
The Gamecocks drove down for a field goal to tie the game again, this time with 4:16 left. Then, for one last time, Smith squatted down, hunched his shoulders and threw the Missouri Tigers on his back.
Smith started the drive with an option play. South Carolina covered all of his options, though, so the senior changed direction and darted back up the middle, breaking a 59-yard gain. After a 10-yard run from Tony Temple, Smith ran on three straight plays, butting his way through defenders on the goal line on the last one.
“Quarterbacks aren’t remembered so much for yards and touchdowns,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “They’re remembered for winning and comeback wins and big wins for your program’s history, and that’s where I’m very proud of him.”
Sophomore cornerback Darnell Terrell intercepted a Blake Mitchell pass to seal the win for the Tigers (7-5), who won their first bowl game since 1998 and are also the first Big 12 team to beat a Southeastern Conference team in the Independence Bowl. South Carolina is also 7-5.
Smith also threw for 282 yards and another touchdown. Many of those yards came to his tight ends; Martin Rucker caught five passes for 83 yards and freshman Chase Coffman had eight for 99 yards and a touchdown, helping to make up for the absence of the Tigers’ leading receiver, the injured Sean Coffey.
Of course, the comeback was only necessary because of the Tigers’ atrocious start. Carolina’s freshman sensation, wide receiver Sidney Rice, capped an easy opening drive with a 23-yard touchdown catch, his 13th of the season.
Rice finished with 12 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown.
Missouri running back Tony Temple then fumbled the ball away on the Tigers’ first offensive play, and Mitchell hit Rice again for 20 yards to get the ball down to the 5. A play later, it was 14-0 Gamecocks.
The Tigers couldn’t do anything on their next possession either, leading to a third Gamecock waltz down the field. Three drives, three touchdowns, 21-0.
“They were manhandling us,” Pinkel said, “but we just kept at it.”
The first positive for Missouri came midway through the second quarter, with Carolina driving for a fourth score. Mitchell badly overthrew his receiver inside the 10-yard line. Senior cornerback Marcus King intercepted the ball at the 1, and with a legion of blockers leading the way, raced the other way down the left sideline. He then cut to the inside at about the South Carolina 25, picked up another block, and scored.
“They got a little pressure on the quarterback, and we threw one up,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “But we could have tackled the guy somewhere. But that’s just one big play in the game.”
The 99-yard return was the longest of the season for Missouri and the longest in Independence Bowl history. King was named the game’s defensive MVP, while Smith beat out Rice to claim the offensive award.
The two teams traded touchdowns for the rest of the half, with the Tigers closing the gap to 28-14 on a 5-yard pass from Smith to tight end Chase Coffman with 20 seconds left.
That was the impetus for the second-half comeback. The Tigers’ first long drive ended without points when Crossett missed a short field goal, but the defense gave MU the ball right back. Smith capitalized with a 31-yard touchdown run.
By that time, the comeback was well underway -- an exclamation point for Smith’s record-breaking resume.
“That’s the way it worked out,” the ever-humble Smith said. “If we’d have lost the game, I’d feel like I’m a champion and the rest of the guys on the team are champions.
“But to end like this, with a win, it makes it even better.”