‘Let’s go win the game’: Missouri roars back to beat Arkansas

The Tigers scored 21 points in seven fourth-quarter minutes and won the game on a last-second Harrison Mevis field goal.

The ball ricocheted off of Jamal Brooks’ chest and into the hands of Arkansas’ Mike Woods. Woods’ catch gave the Razorbacks a 48-47 lead with less than a minute to go.

Brooks, in the game in place of ejected Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton, was the last one off the field. He was devastated, as he filled in admirably for Bolton but also dropped a would-be game-sealing interception earlier in the drive.

On the sideline, however, quarterback Connor Bazelak watched Woods walk toward the bench with his head down. And Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz made sure knew what he had to do.

“Let’s go win the game,” Drinkwitz said.

Bazelak looked his coach in the eye and responded.

“Let’s go win the game.”

Bazelak led the team down the field in 48 seconds, completing four of four passes for 54 yards. The redshirt freshman quarterback found Damon Hazelton on the sideline and Barrett Banister over the middle twice each, showcasing poise in the pocket that even most seniors couldn’t dream of.

When Missouri reached the Arkansas 15-yard line, Drinkwitz sent true freshman Harrison Mevis onto the field to attempt a 32-yard field goal from the right hash.

He drilled it. Right into the welcoming hands of the Allstate logo plastered on the netting. Missouri kept the Battle Line Trophy in Columbia for the fifth year in a row, winning a wild, wild game 50-48.

“I looked across the field,” Drinkwitz said. “I was on about the 50 [yard line], and [Arkansas coach Sam Pittman] was on the 50. So I just watched him, and when the ball was kicked and he stuck his head down, I knew we’d won.”

The win brought Missouri’s record to 5-3, guaranteeing at least a .500 season with an all-SEC schedule. And it sure felt good for the Tigers, who were able to hang a 50-piece on their former coach.

“We knew we had to win for our seniors,” Bazelak said. “We couldn’t let them lose to coach [Barry] Odom.”

The Tigers put themselves in a position to win by scoring 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter after Arkansas took a 14-point lead early in the frame.

Bazelak put together his best downfield passing performance yet, finding Hazelton and Keke Chism for 29, 32, 25 and 10 yards over those three drives that took only 5:06 off the clock.

“One thing I like to remember is in the quarterback room, we have a list of quarterback commandments,” Bazelak said. “One of them says, ‘We don’t need a celebrity quarterback; we need a battlefield commander.’”

For his teammates, Bazelak’s coolness under pressure is an incredibly valuable asset.

“I see a quarterback who’s in complete control, poised in every moment and every situation,” Chism said. “He’s the leader of the offense and we go as he goes.”

The redshirt freshman signal-caller hit Chism for 29 yards twice in the first half, helping the two graduate transfers put together their best game as a tandem at Missouri.

“For us, it’s always staying locked in and capitalizing on the opportunities,” Chism said. “You never know when a moment is gonna come, and I was always taught to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”

However, Bazelak failed to pick up a passing touchdown for the second week in a row. He never even had a chance, because Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie didn’t let him.

Badie began his electric fourth quarter by taking an outside zone to the left and, in the words of Columbia Missourian writer Max Baker, “had the Arkansas secondary more lost than my grandma on Zoom.” He made one defender run the wrong way and stutter-stepped past another on his way to the house for a 46-yard score.

Next drive, Rountree, who put together another banner day with 6.9 yards per carry on 27 carries, walked into the end zone untouched from 9 yards out after a counter run with some misdirection fooled almost every Razorback.

His lead blockers, guard Luke Griffin and tackle Zeke Powell, took care of the ones it didn’t.

“Our confidence level was there,” Rountree said. “We knew we were gonna score because the run game was working, and the pass game.”

Badie scored again on that same outside zone play on the next series, again untouched, to give Missouri the lead.

“On Badie’s touchdown, I literally seen like three pancakes,” Rountree said. “And [tight end] Daniel Parker [Jr.], he pancaked three guys on one play. I saw a lot of pancaking going on out there. So when your O-Line is pancaking guys, it’s no excuse why you shouldn’t have seven yards a carry.”

Early in the game, Missouri jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but it started to crumble fast. The Tigers’ defense couldn’t stop running back Trelon Smith and receiver Treylon Burks, who racked up a combined 379 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns throughout the afternoon.

In particular, Smith consistently found himself running through massive holes when Arkansas called their “sprint-draw” play. Arkansas was able to break off huge gains and multiple touchdowns when their offense ran to one side and handed it off to Smith, who went the other way.

Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks, who Drinkwitz praised during the week, didn’t start. But his backup, KJ Jefferson, did more than enough to give the Razorbacks a shot.

“I thought KJ played really, really well,” Drinkwitz said. “He was able to find holes in our zone coverage, so there’s things that we got to get fixed.”

Missouri’s defensive struggles came to a head when Bolton was ejected for targeting late in the second quarter. The run defense in particular was gashed over and over again throughout the second half, and while it wasn’t great with Bolton in the game, it was much worse with him gone.

The senior linebacker didn’t leave the sidelines, though — he stayed with his team, even running down the field in a way that mirrored Badie on both of his scores.

“Even though he had that call that was called on him, he still was being a captain on the sideline, talking,” Rountree said. “The job is not to go back on the sideline and make excuses. It’s to figure out ways that we can go on the field and do our job.”

Bolton’s attitude exemplified the camaraderie and energy that Drinkwitz has built over his short time at Missouri. He’ll be back next week to face Georgia, where the Tigers — holding an unexpected 5-3 record — will look to pull off an upset.

“The sideline was juiced,” Rountree said. “The most juiced I’ve ever seen.”

Edited by Hope Davis | hdavis@themaneater.com

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