Gutsy call pays off for Pinkel

Down by three points with three minutes left, the Tigers punted and eventually forced a safety.

KANSAS CITY — It was one of those calls that could make Missouri coach Gary Pinkel a genius or a goat.

As Missouri celebrated a thrilling 41-39 victory over Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium, Pinkel came out as option No. 1.

Down by three points with three minutes left to play, Pinkel elected to punt the ball away instead of going for it on fourth-and-four on the Tigers’ own 39-yard line.

Senior punter Jake Harry IV’s kick rolled down to the Kansas three-yard line and Missouri eventually stuffed the Jayhawks on a safety and got the ball back for the winning score.

“I just felt we were punting well, and it was all about field position,” Pinkel said. “You just trust the guys will go out and they’re going to do it. You don’t give up on them.”

As the Missouri punting unit came out on the field, fans on both sides voiced their opinion on the decision. Pinkel joked about the crowd’s reaction.

“I thought everybody thought it was a great decision,” Pinkel said. “I thought they were cheering for me. I guess it was KU fans.”

Kansas fans had reason to be optimistic because the Jayhawks had twice been pinned within their own five-yard line and gone on to score earlier in the game.

The Missouri defense told itself things would be different this time around.

“Two times we had them down there early, we let them score,” junior cornerback Carl Gettis said. “We said this time the game is on the line, we got to hold them. We’ve got to do our job and get our offense back on the field.”

Instead of running the clock down with rushing plays, Reesing started the series with back-to-back incomplete passes to junior wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe. Both plays stopped the clock.

“We thought they were going to come out and try to run the ball,” Gettis said. “They’re a good team, they do what they do and we just had to come out and stop them.”

On third-and-10, Reesing was taken down by redshirt freshman defensive end Aldon Smith and senior defensive end Brian Coulter for a safety. It gave Missouri two points and more importantly, the ball back in its offense’s hands.

Smith said the decision to punt and have the defense stop Kansas revealed the coaches’ belief in the unit’s ability.

“It showed a lot of the faith the coaches had in us, that they believed in us,” Smith said.

With the game on the line, junior cornerback Kevin Rutland said there was no way the Tigers were going to let Kansas get back on the scoreboard.

“It seemed like nothing was stopping us from causing that safety,” Rutland said.

But the safety wasn’t the end of the story for Missouri. Even after the emotional stop, the defense still had to wait the anxious last moments on the sideline before sophomore kicker Grant Ressel’s game-winning kick.

“That was the longest minute and a half of my life,” Coulter said.

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