COLUMBIA — Most of Missouri’s senior class was slow to get off the field Saturday after its team’s 40-26 victory over Texas A&M.
The players were soaking in their last few moments at Faurot Field.
A handful of seniors walked to the north end zone and plucked a handful of whitewashed stones from the giant “M” on the hill. They were to be kept as mementos.
Wide receiver Greg Bracey slapped hands with members of the student section as he exited the field for the last time.
Tight end Martin Rucker received thunderous applause as a cast of teammates carried him into the locker room.
But senior running back Tony Temple was nowhere to be found. His grandmother died on Monday, media relations coordinator Chad Moller said, and he was already in a car traveling back to his home in Kansas City to attend the funeral.
A few minutes earlier, Temple had completed one of his greatest games as a Tiger. The former Rockhurst High standout rushed for 141 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 44-yard scamper through the A&M defense.
“If he was here, he’d say he did it for his grandmother,” coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. “I guarantee that’s what he’d say.”
Temple’s grandmother was on his mind, but he notched his first 100-yard game since Sept. 22 against Illinois State and his 44-yard touchdown was the longest rush for MU this season.
Temple seemed to play with an extra burst of passion and determination all day, eluding tacklers and fighting for yards after contact.
“This is the best game that I’ve ever seen him put together in a Tiger uniform,” Rucker said after the game. “And with his (grandma) passing away earlier in the week, and it being senior day today, it was no better time for a big game by that guy.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Temple battled through adversity in his final home game. He has succeeded in times of hardship throughout his MU career.
As a true freshman, Temple injured his ankle after only six carries in his first career start against Nebraska. His season was done. A year of eligibility was wasted. He made up for it his sophomore year, however, by rushing for 437 yards on 81 attempts and leading the team with 5.4 yards per carry.
Then, in December, Temple pled guilty to disturbing the peace after getting in an altercation with his girlfriend’s co-worker. But he blocked that out of his mind, too, and had a career-best game against Oregon State a few weeks later in the Sun Bowl, where he ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
Heading into this season, Temple appeared set to finally make good on the hype that surrounded him when he came to MU as the No. 8 running back prospect in the country. But once again, injuries disrupted those plans.
He sprained his right ankle in the team’s fifth game against the Cornhuskers, and missed the next two games. He entered Saturday’s game ranked 13th in the Big 12 Conference in rushing yards.
His grandmother died on Monday, and it appeared to be yet another setback. But Temple said he came to MU over schools like Michigan and Notre Dame because it felt like family, and this week, with his heart aching, his family was his life support.
“He came in and was kind of down during the week,” defensive lineman Lorenzo Williams said. “We all kind of gathered around him and put our arm around the guy and told him everything’s going to be OK. … You don’t ever let a guy hurt on this team. Ever.”
After the game, loud chants and joyous song reverberated throughout the MU locker room. There were nothing but smiles and laughter as the players spoke to the media. And even though Temple wasn’t there to enjoy his last home game with his teammates, his teammates did not forget his transcendent effort.
“He’s had a tough couple weeks with his family situation,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “But for him to come out here and to be the warrior that he is and get those tough yards in between the tackles and to bounce out some of those runs, I was amazed. Unbelievable.”