People have learned to expect the unexpected from the University of Missouri football team. On any given Saturday the Tigers can beat anybody. Or lose to anybody. They belong in an amusement park, with roller coasters.
Last Saturday they did it again, beating Ohio State 22-21. Let's not call it an upset, even if the Buckeyes were unbeaten, second-ranked and riding a 25-game winning streak at home. And even though Missouri had lost to Illinois (Illinois?) 31-6 the week before and was playing without Quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz. After all, an upset occurs only when one team wins a game it is supposed to lose. The Tigers have been winning that kind of game for years.
Just look at the record. Four years ago Missouri followed a 62-0 loss to Nebraska with a 30-26 defeat of Notre Dame. In 1973 and '74 the Tigers shucked and shocked the Cornhuskers. They opened last season by defeating Alabama, only to play .500 the rest of the way. They began this year by trouncing Southern California 46-25 and then lost to Illinois. Arid you thought presidential candidates flip-flopped?
Missouri Coach Al Onofrio had an explanation for the defeat of Ohio State: "We pointed for the first and third games. Against Illinois we simply fell flat." In the Illinois game his team might also have paid too much attention to the stadium's P.A. announcer, who kept reminding everyone that the Ohio State game could be seen the following week on closed-circuit television.
October 3, 1976
Without Pisarkiewicz, the Tigers' prospects in Columbus seemed poor indeed. Zark the Shark had thrown three touchdown passes against the Trojans and was nearing Paul Christman's school record for total offense. But he was ineffective in the face of the Illinois defense (hitting just seven of 18 passes for 64 yards) and had to leave at the end of the third quarter after aggravating a bum shoulder. He was hurt, embarrassingly enough, when one of his own backs cut the wrong way and speared him. The Tigers finished the game with Pete Woods, a 6'4", 210-pound junior—the star pitcher on the Missouri baseball team which won the Big Eight title last spring. Woods was expected to redshirt in football this season, but Pisarkiewicz' injured shoulder put a crimp in that plan.
As Missouri prepared for Ohio State, Woods was the best quarterback Coach Al Onofrio could muster. Unlike Zark, who is a classic drop-back passer, Woods prefers option roll-outs, throwing best on the run. He also exudes enormous confidence. "I've been waiting for two years to play," he said before the game. "I don't see any problems at all."
The first half, however, belonged to the Buckeyes, who started the game by uncharacteristically, and unsuccessfully, throwing long for a touchdown on the first play. Woody Hayes settled down to his usual attack after that, spurning the pass and running Fullback Pete Johnson and Tailback Jeff Logan. With Tackle Nick Buonamici's pass interception at the Tiger 23 setting the stage for one score, Johnson bucked for three touchdowns within seven minutes of the second quarter, and Ohio State led at the half 21-7. Missouri's only score had come on a 31-yard pass from Woods to Joe Stewart.
Assessing those first 30 minutes, Onofrio said later, "They really took the starch out of us." In the second half, though, the Missouri defenders stood their ground, holding Johnson (who came up with sprained ankles) and Logan to 36 of their combined 229 yards. The Tigers were so unimpressed by Ohio State's passing that Safeties Mike Newman and Chuck Banta cheated to just behind the line of scrimmage and finished as the team's leading solo tacklers.
When the Buckeyes tried to pass, they did so with regrettable results. Rod Gerald completed only one of eight attempts and was sacked three times by End Dale Smith. Missouri Linebacker Chris Garlich helped the offense get on the scoreboard in the third quarter by intercepting a Gerald pass and returning it to the Ohio State 36. Eight plays later Tailback Curt Brown picked up four of his 108 yards on a touchdown run that put the Tigers back in the game.
The score was still 21-14 with 4:42 remaining when Missouri began its final 80-yard drive. The Tigers surely could have used the rifle shots of Pisarkiewicz, the Big Eight's leading passer last season. But Zark the Shark was not even in uniform.
It was all up to Woods, who is considered a better runner than passer. "All I know is, I wasn't nervous," he would say later. Missouri got several extraordinary breaks. After the Tigers crossed into Ohio State territory with more than two minutes remaining, Woods was thrown for a 13-yard loss by End Bob Brudzinski. But the first of two crucial holding penalties against the Buckeyes gave Missouri the ball, first and eight, at the Ohio State 44 instead of second and 25 at its own 39. Three plays later Tailback Brown romped 31 yards to the nine. Then, on third and goal at the two, with 12 seconds left, Woods sent Leo Lewis into the far corner of the end zone. The quarterback led him perfectly, lofting the ball over the outstretched arms of the defender and into the hands of Lewis, who juggled it as he left the end zone. Touch-down.
Onofrio did not spend any time debating whether he should kick for the tie or attempt a two-point conversion for the victory. He had made up his mind while the Tigers were marching for the touchdown. But while Onofrio was thinking win, his players weren't. "When they sent in the play," recalled Joel Yearian, "I thought, 'Oh my God, we're going for it.' All of us in the huddle were nervous and shaking like it was the first play of the game."
To calm themselves the linemen coined their own mantra right there on the field. "Kopay, Kopay, Kopay," they said over and over, referring to former Line Coach Tony Kopay, who often sends them inspirational telegrams from his present outpost at Oregon State.
Unfortunately, "Kopay" did not help Woods at all when he rolled to his right and overthrew Curt Brown. But just when Missouri thought it had lost, "Kopay"—or something—inspired an official to call another holding penalty against Ohio State.
Let the record show that Woods was "quite relieved" at getting a second chance. And after the ball was marked in the middle of the field 1½ yards from the goal line, he made the most of it. Missouri had been running trap options all afternoon, but on this occasion it ran a sprint-out option, with Woods going left against Ohio State's weak side. End Kelton Dansler grabbed Woods low as he reached the goal line but the quarterback cut back inside left tackle and had just enough momentum to bolt over.
The play won the game for Missouri and praise from Hayes. "Their quarterback did a great job, truly great," Woody said. "He was very strong running, mixed his plays extremely well and threw two touchdown passes that were well-de-fensed."
Ohio State, added Woody, "deserved to get beat. We scored three touchdowns in less than seven minutes and did nothing the rest of the game."
Woods was as kind in victory as Woody was in defeat. "Ohio State didn't play a bad game," he said. "We just played a better game on offense."
The victory had special meaning for Onofrio, because it was Missouri's first, after eight defeats (and one tie), against Ohio State and evened his personal coaching record at 30-30. "It was a tremendous win over a great team," he said. "It was the greatest game Missouri has ever played."
But Coach, what about those wins over Southern Cal, Alabama, Nebraska and Notre Dame? What about all those "upsets"? And, while we're at it, what about Illinois?