COLUMBIA, Mo. — After three quarters smothered by Arkansas, Missouri found a way out. It’s been that way most of the year, simply finding ways to get the job done.
“I just think it got contagious,” coach Gary Pinkel said after finally emerging from a rowdy locker room celebrating the 21-14 victory Friday over Arkansas that sent the No. 17 Tigers to the SEC championship game for the second straight season.
“You win games like that, a lot of players are making plays,”
Marcus Murphy scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 12-yard run with 4:38 remaining and Markus Golden recovered a fumble to seal it.
“It don’t get no better than that, man,” Golden said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Missouri (10-2, 7-1, No. 17 CFP) tied it at 14 early in the fourth quarter with a 98-yard drive capped by Jimmie Hunt’s 4-yard TD reception and a reverse pass by receiver Bud Sasser to Darius White for the 2-point conversion.
“It worked awesome,” Pinkel said. “When these things work, it’s a great call.”
Arkansas (6-6, 2-6) was driving for the tie when Kentrell Brothers stripped Alex Collins and Golden recovered with 2:13 to go at the Missouri 35 to thwart Arkansas’ bid to tie it.
The game got a bit contentious even before the opening kickoff. Arkansas players accused Missouri players of refusing to shake hands.
“I think this is a nice start to the rivalry,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “I don’t know what happened. I just know there was a couple things there at the end of the coin toss.”
Golden said Missouri players shook hands before the coin toss and didn’t think it necessary to repeat such pleasantries.
The Razorbacks had won two straight, both shutouts against ranked teams while outscoring Mississippi and LSU 47-0.
“I think we might have worn down in the fourth quarter,” Bielema said. “My guess is we’ll be very, very energized and very, very excited bowl team to take somewhere.”
Brandon Allen, who was 13 for 30 for 133 yards and two touchdowns, played through a hip injury.
“In the last couple drives he asked me, ‘Hey, are you still good?’ ” Allen said about Bielema. “I told him I was fine, I wanted to stay in. It was my decision to stay in.”
A sellout crowd of 71,168 stuck around for the fourth quarter surge by the Tigers that kept Georgia out of the Southeastern Conference title game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta. The Bulldogs (9-2, 6-2) would have won the East by virtue of a blowout victory against Missouri earlier in the season.
Fans mobbed the field after Maty Mauk’s kneel down ended it while stadium personnel took down the goal posts to prevent fans from toting them off to a nearby tavern. Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” played while the stadium slowly emptied.
It’s the fifth division title in eight seasons for Missouri (two in the SEC and three in the Big 12), which also reached 10 victories for the fifth time in 14 seasons under Pinkel.
“One of the great traits they have is that when things get tough, they get tougher,” Pinkel said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys.”
Arkansas led 14-3 in the second quarter. Jonathan Williams had a 23-yard scoring catch, Dan Skipper blocked a field goal and punter Sam Irwin-Hill ran for a first down and pinned Missouri at the 2 early the fourth.
Missouri had one interception and could have easily had two more turnovers in the second quarter. Trey Flowers stripped Mauk on a sack and Taiwan Johnson recovered at the Tigers 19 with 1:16 to go, but officials ruled after video review that Mauk’s arm had been going forward with the ball and the Tigers had enough time for Andrew Baggett’s 51-yard field goal to end the half.
The schools exchanged turnovers on consecutive plays near midfield in the second, Golden’s forced fumble on Williams followed by D.J. Dean’s interception on a tipped pass for Arkansas. Missouri avoided another turnover when Murphy muffed a fair catch but recovered the fumbled punt.
Arkansas held opponents scoreless for nine straight quarters and a total of 148 minutes, 58 seconds before Baggett’s career-long 52-yard field early in the second to cut the gap to 7-3. Flowers’ 12-yard sack on third down pushed the Tigers back before Baggett beat his previous best by 8 yards.
Baggett missed two extra-point kicks last week in a victory at Tennessee.
“It was nice to see him bounce back and that the players had reached down to pick him up,” Pinkel said. “I told him before the game, ‘I believe in you.’”
Williams had an easy trip to the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown reception that capped the Razorbacks’ opening drive.