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Missouri wins, lands spot in SEC title game

The SportsXchange

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A 57-yard sprint to the end zone by Henry Josey sent No. 5 Missouri to the SEC championship game in Atlanta with a 28-21 win over 19th-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday night.

With the score tied 21-21, the Missouri offense went quiet in the fourth quarter as the game plan went away from its trio of running backs.

Facing a third-and-1 with under four minutes remaining in the game, James Franklin handed the ball to Josey out of a pistol formation.

Josey raced through the line of scrimmage, hurdling an ankle tackle by a Texas A&M defender. Fifty-seven yards later, Josey was in the end zone, giving Missouri a 28-21 lead.

"That was fitting," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Henry Josey, with the kind of year he's had and what he is, what he's about. He's sacred to our fans.

"When he scored that touchdown ... from that point on, it went to a whole new level. Every single play."

Josey finished with 96 yards on 13 carries.

The Tigers' defense held on from there, forcing Johnny Manziel and the high-powered Aggies offense into two consecutive three-and-outs. After the Aggies scored on a nine-play, 98-yard touchdown drive with 10:43 left in the game, Missouri's defense held them to nine plays that netted 1 yard.

It was a stunning turn of events for Missouri, who came into this season predicted to finish sixth in the SEC East. In its biggest game to date, the Tigers saw a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead against South Carolina evaporate into a double-overtime loss.

That defeat set the stage for Saturday's win-and-in situation. Missouri had to win to advance to the SEC championship in Atlanta. A loss would have sent the Gamecocks, whose conference schedule ended two weeks ago.

"For me, you work so hard to do this, and you get to this point, you have a chance to win a championship in a tough league, especially after the year we had," Pinkel said.

Against its partner in the Big 12-to-SEC defection, Missouri again had to face the Aggies, who were trying to play the role of spoiler. A year ago, a 59-29 loss in College Station ended Missouri's bowl hopes.

This year, Missouri kept Manziel and Texas A&M's offense in check.

Manziel finished with 195 yards passing and one touchdown, and carried the ball 11 times for 21 yards. It was his lowest yardage output of the season in games he started.

"He's such a competitor," Texas A&M wide receiver Travis Labhart said. "He's our team leader, and he's always going to take losses tough.

"He's a warrior, and a real tough guy."

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said, "As I said coming into the game, their front seven is really athletic and really fast. We had some creases and they rallied to them.

"When it comes down to it in a game like this, they made more plays in the end than we did to win the game."

Still, Missouri's offense struggled to get going in the first half, scoring just one touchdown and missing a 47-yard field goal attempt as time expired to go into halftime trailing 14-7.

The Tigers turned to their ground game to score on back-to-back drives and take the lead. Missouri started the second half with a renewed effort to get its rushing attack going. It scored on its first two drives after halftime to take a 21-14 lead, first on a 2-yard rush by Marcus Murphy and then on a 5-yard pass from James Franklin to L'Damian Washington.

Franklin finished the game with 313 total yards and two passing touchdowns.

"Texas A&M made us execute and we hurt ourselves a few times," Franklin said. "But our defense did a great job getting the ball back for us and then holding them off at the end."

Both offenses struggled early on as the teams traded punts to start the game.

The Aggies broke through first, relying mainly on their ground game and a 31-yard touchdown run by Tra Carson in the first quarter.

Missouri answered in the second-quarter as Franklin threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Dorial Green-Beckham to tie the score, ending a seven-play, 94-yard drive that nearly doubled the Tigers' total yardage up to that point.

After a sluggish start, Manziel immediately answered Missouri's first points of the game. Just over a minute after the Tigers' scored, Manziel threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Derel Walker, who was wide open in the end zone.

Missouri, however, largely contained Manziel. Now, it moves onto the SEC championship against Auburn, who likewise has undergone a radical transformation from a winless conference season in 2012 to upsetting top-ranked Alabama on Saturday to advance to Atlanta.

"It is big time for this program," Missouri center Evan Boehm said. "Especially after where we were last year. Everyone counted us out this year at the beginning, but we knew as a unit and as a team that we could be the best."

NOTES: Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham's touchdown reception was the 10th of the season and 15th of his career. Through 23 games, the sophomore is already sixth on Missouri's career receiving touchdown list. ... With the win, Gary Pinkel tied Don Faurot with a record 101 wins at Missouri. ... Missouri extended its nation-leading turnover streak to 42 games after it recovered a fumble on a punt in the first quarter.
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