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Fourth quarter rally leads Mizzou to second straight SEC East title

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By ALEX SCHIFFER
College Contributor Network

Going into the fourth quarter Friday night you'd have a hard time believing that in about 40 minutes, the Missouri Tigers would be clinching their second consecutive Southeastern Conference East Division title.

Throughout the game the run game was flat, the passing game wasn't going anywhere, and every time it seemed the Tigers had momentum offensively, it would slip away thanks to a fumble, interception or three-and-out.

"We knew the stuff was there, it's not necessarily that they were stopping us but more that we were stopping ourselves," senior wide receiver Bud Sasser said.

Down 14-6 at the start of the fourth quarter to an Arkansas team that was coming off back-to-back shutouts against top 25 teams, the Tigers went on to outscore the Razorbacks 15-0 in the final quarter to clinch their second straight SEC East title.

"It was nothing until the fourth quarter for either team," Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. "Then we just started executing, and it starts with our quarterback obviously and a bunch of guys making plays."

The momentum changer came on the first play of the fourth quarter when Tigers sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk hit senior receiver Jimmie Hunt for a 44-yard completion. A few rushing plays later, the duo hooked up again in the end zone to make the score 14-12. One converted two-point conversion later, where Sasser threw to fellow senior wideout Darius White on a trick play. and all of the sudden the score was 14-all.

"We were really pushing our drive on that," Sasser said of Hunt's catch. "And that was big. When we called that I saw the ball in the air and I was just like 'This is it Jimmie.'"

The Tigers would get the go-ahead score on their following drive on a 12-yard rushing touchdown from senior Marcus Murphy. A year earlier, it was Tigers running back Henry Josey, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who scored the go-ahead touchdown against Texas A&M to send the Tigers to Atlanta. This year, it was a different Texas native from the same recruiting class.

The Razorbacks would threaten to tie things up late in the game but a forced fumble by Missouri defensive end Markus Golden gave the Tigers the ball back, allowing them to run the clock out.

"I just went after it," Golden said. "He was trying to keep it in while he was going down and I was still hitting the ball and I felt myself knock it out."

As time expired, fans stormed the field for the second consecutive season to celebrate the Tigers division title. The team will play either Alabama or Mississippi State next Saturday at the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship.

"We made it this far we might as well finish it you know," sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said.

The Tigers, currently ranked No. 17 in most polls, were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East in the preseason and have silenced their critics for the second straight season. Players like Golden think that if the program doesn't get respect now, it won't come anytime soon.

"I feel like if they don't respect us now they'll never respect us," he said.

Meanwhile Mauk thinks this team doesn't need to play for respect because it has bigger things to worry about.

"A lot of people play for respect but I don't think we need to," he said. "What people say to us doesn't bother me. They call us underdogs every week. We're here to win championships, and that's what we're focused on doing right now."

The Tigers will play either Alabama or Mississippi State next weekend in Atlanta for the SEC title. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. ET.


Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan
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