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The last-minute heroics by KJ Jefferson and Mike Woods were wiped out by a Missouri field goal as time expired Saturday afternoon.
After the pair hooked up for a touchdown and two-point conversion to give Arkansas a one-point lead, but the Tigers easily got into Harrison Mevis’ range in the closing seconds and the freshman booted a 32-yarder to lift them to a 50-48 victory in Columbia, Mo.
Getting the ball back with 43 seconds left, Connor Bazelak picked apart the Razorbacks’ zone by completing all four of his passes for 54 yards to set up the game-winning kick.
That followed a thrilling drive on which Jefferson – playing for an injured Feleipe Franks, who was ruled out just before kickoff – led Arkansas down the field after it had blown a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and fallen behind 47-40.
The redshirt freshman completed a pass to Treylon Burks – who finished with 206 receiving yards – to convert one third down and T.J. Hammonds ran for another third-down conversion. Inside the red zone, Burks took a handoff and had to stretch to move the chains on fourth down.
On the next play, Jefferson hit Woods on a wheel route in the front corner of the end zone. Having already experienced extra-point problems in the game, head coach Sam Pittman opted to try to take the lead instead of tie it up again.
It seemed like the Tigers had an interception on the two-point try, but the ball bounced out of the defender’s arms and Woods came down with it to give the Razorbacks a 48-47 lead.
However, there was still 43 seconds left on the clock and that proved to be plenty of time for Missouri to win its fifth straight game in the series, which has been dubbed the Battle Line Rivalry.
Early on, it didn’t look like the game would come down to the last second. Aided by a roughing the passer penalty on Isaiah Nichols, Missouri moved into Arkansas territory on the game’s opening possession. Julius Coates helped limit the damage, though, by coming up with a 13-yard sack.
That forced the Tigers to settle for their first of five field goals in the game and Mevis made a 51-yarder to give them a 3-0 lead.
Following a three-and-out on Jefferson’s first drive as the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback, Missouri marched down the field on a 12-play, 69-yard drive that took more than five minutes off the clock.
Set up by a nice 29-yard catch by Keke Chism near the front corner of the end zone, running back Larry Rountree punched it in from 1 yard out on a direct snap. That put Arkansas in an early 10-0 hole.
It required some help from a key third-down holding penalty on Missouri, but the Razorbacks started cutting into that deficit on the next drive.
Jefferson seemed to build some confidence by picking up yards with his legs, highlighted by a 16-yard run on which he spun to avoid a sack in the backfield. Two plays later, he hit Blake Kern in the flats for a 2-yard touchdown.
The 75-yard drive included the redshirt freshman running for 33 yards and throwing for another 21. However, A.J. Reed missed the extra point attempt, so it was 10-6 after the score.
That proved to signal the start of a shootout at Faurot Field.
Fayetteville native Barrett Banister – a former walk-on who caught six passes for 60 yards in last year’s matchup – caught a third-down pass to move the chains and get the Tigers in the red zone, but the defense kept them out of the end zone. Mevis made the 29-yard kick to extend Missouri’s lead to 13-6.
Despite getting poor field position thanks to a 7-yard kickoff return by walk-on Nathan Parodi, the Razorbacks needed just three plays to cover 89 yards and tie it up.
T.J. Hammonds showcased the explosiveness he’s flashed throughout his career on a 21-yard run and then beat his man on a go route, but Jefferson overthrew him. Arkansas went deep on the very next play and this time Jefferson hit Treylon Burks in stride for a 68-yard score.
The Razorbacks couldn’t get a stop on defense, though. Missouri, helped by another third-down catch by Banister, went down the field on just eight plays to regain the lead, with Rountree scoring on a 6-yard run.
Big plays got the job done on its last possession, but Arkansas used a methodical, 13-play, 75-yard drive – capped by Trelon Smith’s 8-yard touchdown run – to tie the game once again.
After getting points the first four times they had the ball, Missouri went 3-and-out to give the Razorbacks a chance to go on top just before halftime.
It looked like Arkansas would have to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt when it stalled out at the 25-yard line, but Pittman dialed up a fake and holder Jack Lindsey had plenty of room to run 20 yards.
Two plays later, Jefferson took a snap from under center and scored on the quarterback keeper from the 1. Not only did the drive give the Razorbacks a 27-20 lead with 20 seconds left in the half, but Missouri also lost linebacker Nick Bolton on the drive.
The projected first-round pick and All-America candidate was called for targeting on a hit of John David White and – after the play was confirmed on replay review – disqualified for the rest of the game.
Arkansas could have added to its lead when it received the kickoff to start the second half, but much like it did on its opening possession, it went 3-and-out.
It appeared Missouri would make the most of that, especially when Rountree broke free for a 34-yard run on the first play and Montaric Brown was called for a pass interference to move it deep into Arkansas territory, but the Tigers were limited to a 37-yard field goal by Mevis.
They nearly got the ball back, but the Razorbacks converted a third-and-15 with a 41-yard catch and run by Burks and eventually cashed it in for a touchdown. Smith’s 15-yard run capped the drive, but Reed’s extra point was blocked to keep the lead at 33-23.
The two teams exchanged punts before Missouri started a lengthy drive that ended with yet another Mevis field goal. Before he made the 40-yard kick, though, the Tigers benefited from a questionable unsportsmanlike penalty that gave them a first down instead of setting up a third-and-long.
The drive also cost Arkansas its star linebacker, as Grant Morgan went down with a knee injury a few plays after the penalty. Without him, the Razorbacks still managed to get a third-down stop at the start of the fourth quarter, limiting the Tigers to a field goal that made it 33-26 with 14:51 remaining.
Neither team needed much time to find the end zone again.
Jefferson covered 57 yards on three completions – two to Burks and one to Trey Knox – to get into the red zone and Smith finished it off with a 16-yard run for his third touchdown of the game. He ended up running for 172 yards in the loss.
Missouri scored even quicker, covering 75 yards on two plays that took just 34 seconds off the clock. Bazelak hit Damon Hazelton for a 29-yard gain and then Tyler Badie went 46 yards almost untouched for the score. That made it 40-33 Arkansas.
After a punt by the Razorbacks, Bazelak connected with Hazelton again on a 32-yard play for a third-down conversion and Chism made a spectacular 25-yard grab to set up Rountree’s third touchdown of the game. His 9-yard run tied it up at 40-40 midway through the fourth quarter.
It didn’t take long for Missouri to get the ball back and take the lead for the first time since the second quarter. Jefferson was sacked and his third-down pass fell incomplete, forcing another punt.
The Tigers gashed Arkansas’ defense on the ground, with Rountree breaking free for a 46-yard run on the first play and Badie scoring on a 25-yard on the fourth play. That gave them a 47-40 lead.
That set the stage for the wild ending mentioned above, which ultimately dropped the Razorbacks to 3-6 with one game left in the regular season. They return to Fayetteville next Saturday for a game against No. 1 Alabama.