COLUMBIA, Mo. – They are renovating Faurot Field right now, adding suites and seats to the Missouri stadium’s east side.
That should only be a start.
What they really need to do is detonate the north end zone. Napalm it. Call in a drone strike on the most haunted plot of land in college football.
Add an exorcism to the job list before rebuilding. And just in case the real culprit is the grass hillside behind the end zone, truck all those white rocks that make the “M” out of town and dump them in the nearby Missouri River.
The north end zone is where black-and-gold dreams go to die – in spectacular fashion. It is a place so profoundly, perversely cursed that it is entering the realm of billy goats and the Bambino among the sporting occult. The misery of Missouri football is anchored there.
The north end zone is where Nebraska got the infamous kicked-ball touchdown to beat the Tigers in 1997. The north end zone is where Colorado got five downs to beat the Tigers in 1990. As noted in my column Thursday, the north end zone is where kicker Brad Burditt incomprehensibly came up short on a 39-yard field goal to beat North Dame in 1984.
And the north end zone is where Andrew Baggett earned his own niche in Missouri’s macabre lore Saturday night. Baggett hooked a chip-shot, 24-yard field goal into the left upright to finish Missouri’s come-from-ahead, double-overtime debacle of a defeat against South Carolina, 27-24.
For what it’s worth, a fan made a 30-yard field goal between the first and second quarters Saturday night. It was the third time this year that a Mizzou fan has kicked one from that length to win a cash prize. So they can come out of the stands and connect from 30, but the scholarship kicker couldn’t make one from six yards closer.
All those kicks have been at the north end zone, by the way. So the curse is selective.
History says Mizzou is capable of galling defeat anywhere and anytime. But it saves the soul-crushing ones for home games, just to inflict maximum emotional distress on an already traumatized fan base. For an added karmic flourish, those losses always seem to hinge on an epic malfunction at that north end.
Baggett’s blunder capped a mighty Missouri collapse in the fourth quarter and overtime.
With a 17-0 lead entering the final quarter, the undefeated Tigers had a huge victory and complete control of the SEC Eastern Division within their grasp. An improbable undefeated season was on the verge of entering into a truly special realm.
Naturally, they blew it.
The Missouri offense stopped making plays. The defense, which had strung together four straight shutout quarters going back to the rout of Florida the previous week, stopped making stops. The clock seemingly stopped moving.
And South Carolina was tough enough to take advantage, salvaging its season for at least another week. They are a game behind Missouri in the loss column in the bloody Eastern Division, but now own the tiebreaker with the Tigers after this great escape.
“I thought we were dead,” coach Steve Spurrier said.
Spurrier is largely unfamiliar with Missouri football, so he can be forgiven for that pessimism. Those steeped in Mizzou lore could see this coming from space.
In addition to the shanked Baggett kick, all 17 of the Gamecocks’ fourth-quarter points were scored in the north end zone. Just sayin’.
“It stings,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “You feel awful. You feel terrible. But we’ve got to move on.”
Moving on is necessary for the players and coaches. But the fans will linger a little longer over a game that got away and was given away in small, agonizing increments.
Up 14-0, a third-quarter drive stalled inside the South Carolina 10-yard line when coach Gary Pinkel ran down the sideline to call a third-down timeout but didn’t get the officials’ attention. Instead the Tigers got the play off and quarterback Maty Mauk threw an incompletion (nine of the freshman’s final 11 passes were incompletions, as the Mizzou offense bogged down late). Baggett kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.
That’s when Spurrier made the (tardy) decision that gave the Gamecocks life. He inserted injured starter Connor Shaw, who had sprained a knee last week at Tennessee, and lifted ineffective Dylan Thompson. Shaw couldn’t move South Carolina in his first possession, but then orchestrated scoring drives on the final three possessions of regulation.
The first drive included a 20-yard screen pass on third-and-19, which would be a recurring theme. Missouri appeared completely baffled by the basic screen concept, as South Carolina running back Mike Davis finished with 10 catches for 99 yards.
With a 17-7 lead, the Tigers marched to the South Carolina 23. On a third-and-seven, Mizzou right tackle Mitch Morse flinched and was called for a false start. On the next play, Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney swatted down a screen pass. And then Baggett hooked a 46-yard field goal wide left – presaging the bigger and easier miss to come.
That kick was sufficiently wide that it probably wouldn’t have been good from 41 yards out, either. But the added distance after the unforced penalty undoubtedly only added to the pressure Baggett put on himself to make the kick.
Shaw’s second scoring drive ended with a short field goal, cutting the Missouri lead to 17-10. That’s when the Tigers lost their play-calling nerve, opting for a basic handoff on third-and-two from their own 33 when a first down might have ended the game. South Carolina saw it coming and swarmed Henry Josey for a four-yard loss, and after a poor punt Shaw guided the Gamecocks 63 yards for the tying touchdown with 42 seconds to play.
Yet even after the profound psychological blow of losing a big lead in a big game, Mizzou was a play away from winning in the first overtime. The Tigers scored with surprising ease on their possession for a 24-17 lead, and had South Carolina facing a fourth-and-goal from the 16-yard line. Just guard the goal line and all who enter the end zone, and the game would be over.
They didn’t guard the goal line. Receiver Bruce Ellington somehow appeared wide open in the end zone, and Shaw delivered to force a second OT.
“It was just a busted play,” said Mizzou defensive end Kony Ealy, “and it happens to everybody.”
It happens with greater regularity to the Tigers.
Well after the game was over, a group of South Carolina fans congregated by the team bus to congratulate the players on the first overtime victory in school history. They cheered for Clowney and Ellington and Davis, but saved their loudest ovation for the gritty quarterback who came limping and smiling toward them.
“Con-nor Shawww! Con-nor Shawww!”
It was a Shaw-shank night at Faurot Field. With no redemption for the perversely cursed home team.