JONESBORO, Ark. A game that could have been played at Busch Stadium stayed here instead to showcase a newly renovated stadium and what Arkansas State hoped would be the biggest win in team history.
Not so fast.
Missouri's Maty Mauk overcame two dreadful throws but did enough damage with his legs (75 rushing yards) and arm (three touchdowns) to snatch a 27-20 victory from the Red Wolves' jaws of defeat. He got some help from Missouri's defense, led by defensive end Charles Harris, who lived in the Arkansas State backfield and had two sacks, and linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who had his second straight 16-tackle game along with two fourth-quarter interceptions.
The victory extended Missouri's winning streak in true road games to 11 and saved the Southeastern Conference from further embarrassment on a weekend that saw No. 18 Arkansas lose to Toledo and No. 6 Auburn need overtime to hold off Jacksonville State.
Where does Missouri's season go from here? The short answer is Columbia. The Tigers resume play against Connecticut on Saturday, an 11 a.m. Central kickoff against a 2-0 team with uninspiring wins over Villanova and Army.
Playing at a Sun Belt Conference stadium for the first time since a nightmare loss at Troy in 2004, Missouri (2-0) erased a seven-point halftime deficit and took a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter as a pair of Mauk touchdown passes and airtight defense turned the tide at Centennial Bank Stadium. Mizzou outgained ASU in third-down yardage 140 to 0. The fourth quarter was more of a struggle, but after trading field goals with the Red Wolves (0-2), Brothers' two interceptions of backup quarterback James Tabary helped seal it.
The Tigers' comeback started with Mauk's arm. Back from a knee injury that sidelined him for last week's opener, Mizzou senior receiver Wesley Leftwich picked a good time for his first career touchdown with the Tigers trailing midway through the third quarter. The wideout from Columbia's Hickman High burst past ASU cornerback Jamaris Hart down the sideline and hauled in a 32-yard strike from Mauk for the game-tying score with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
Mizzou's defense quickly gave the ball right back to Mauk with back-to-back stops behind the line of scrimmage from defensive ends Marcell Frazier and Harris.
With starting tailback Russell Hansbrough watching most of the second half from the sideline nursing his sore ankle, Ish Witter ripped off a 27-yard run on a misdirection play to put the Tigers deep into ASU territory. On third and 5, Mauk looked to scramble up the middle but pulled up just before crossing the line of scrimmage and found tight end Sean Culkin open in the flat. Culkin ran the rest of the way untouched for the go-ahead 21-yard touchdown. Culkin finished with a career-best five catches for 46 yards.
Mauk couldn't sustain Mizzou's momentum. After just dodging a sack in the end zone, he threw his second interception, this time to cornerback Rocky Hayes on another throw into a crowd of defenders. The Tigers were fortunate to only give up a field goal on ASU's next drive, the lead down to 24-20 with 11:30 left.
The second quarter couldn't have started much worse for Mizzou and couldn't have ended much worse. A 5-yard Arkansas State pass into the end zone in the half's final seconds was overturned during a replay review and put the Red Wolves ahead 17-10 heading into the break.
Tres Houston got his hands on Fredi Knighten's toss as he dived out the back of the end zone but the officials ruled it an incomplete pass, setting up fourth and goal with eight seconds left. But during the ensuing timeout, the replay booth overturned the call, ruling that Houston had control of the ball as his toes tipped the back of the end zone, putting the Red Wolves back in front to close the half.
Arkansas State, a 10-point underdog against the highest-ranked team to visit Jonesboro, outgained the Tigers in first-half yardage 180-106.
The quarter began ominously for the Tigers when Mauk unleashed a third-down pass from his own end zone deep down the sideline into double coverage and well short of Leftwich. Safety Bo Sentimore snatched the interception and wiggled through traffic to reach the Mizzou 7-yard line. Three plays later, the Tigers gave up their first touchdown of the season and faced their first deficit.
Lined up against cornerback Kenya Dennis, Houston did his best Odell Beckham Jr. impression in the back of the end zone, making a leaping one-handed catch for the go-ahead score.
With a 7-3 lead, A-State tried to keep the momentum rolling with an onside kick, but Mizzou linebacker Terez Hall smothered the ball around midfield. Getting his first series of the game, Mizzou freshman quarterback Drew Lock was one and done as in one pass. His fastball over the middle went through the hands of slot receiver Thomas Richard and right to safety Chris Humes the rare back-to-back interceptions by different quarterbacks from one team.
Arkansas State drove all the way to Mizzou's 2-yard line but couldn't get closer and took a 10-3 lead on J.D. Houston's 20-yard field goal.
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