MU 44, E. MICHIGAN 24
Faurot Field - Columbia, Mo.
With haunting early-season memories of Tulsa, Memphis and Bowling Green letdowns still lingering in a decade of uncertainty, Missouri erased any doubts of its legitimacy by kicking off the 1997 campaign with a convincing 44-24 victory over Eastern Michigan. A potent MU rushing game steamrolled the EMU defense for 382 yards, giving the 52,514 boisterous fans in attendance reason to believe the 14-year drought of winning football was nearing its end. "Getting that in your pocket is a big, big plus," said Coach Larry Smith. "Now we have a starting point, but we have to build on it. From here we have to work on every phase of football because there are things we can improve on."
After walk-on kicker Scott Knickman opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal, senior fullback Ernest Blackwell, who led the Tigers with 116 yards rushing on 12 carries, set up the next score with a 50-yard rumble over left tackle. Junior tailback Devin West, who scored two touchdowns in a game for the second time in his career, put Mizzou up 10-0 with a 10-yard scamper seven plays later. Though the Tigers started fast and contained EMU quarterback Charlie Batch through the opening two possessions, their guard would slip. After the teams traded second quarter field goals, Batch connected on a six-yard strike to Keijuan Douglas to bring EMU to within three points. The Tigers headed to the locker room up 13-10 at the half but would return with a revised plan of attack. "We just said we know what we can do so let's do it," Smith said. "So we just started pounding it."
After the Tigers' air attack completed just one-of-six passes before intermission, Smith decided to play on the team's biggest strength. So the Tigers ran and ran and ran some more. Brock Olivo carried much of the load, plunging into the endzone from two yards out to open the second half scoring. Eagles tailback Savon Edwards answered with a five-yard TD run of his own to bring EMU to within three halfway through the third quarter at 20-17. But the Tigers would find the endzone on their next possession, as they did on the first four drives of the second half. MU quarterback Corby Jones picked up a good portion of his 58 passing yards on the night with a pivotal 42-yard bomb to senior wideout Jay Murchison on third down, setting up West's second touchdown of the game, this time from one yard out, two plays later. "That was probably the thing that kind of shook things loose," Smith said, "because that was third and long. We started getting a little breathing room again after that."
If that touchdown provided room to breathe, Olivo's second TD put the stranglehold on EMU. Senior linebacker Kevin Ford put the Tigers back within striking distance with his second career interception on the ensuing series, as he got his hands on a deflection and returned it to the Eagles 34-yard line. Seven plays later, Olivo followed his big offensive line to paydirt, putting MU at a 34-17 advantage. The Eagles punched back one more time on the following series, as Batch hit Douglas from 19 yards for their second touchdown connection with less than 11 minutes to play. From that point the Tigers turned greedy, hogging the ball and milking the clock. They kept the Eagles offense on the sidelines for all but 1:44, piling up more than a 13-minute advantage in time of possession for the game. All four of MU's returning 500-yard rushers eventually got in on the act, as Jones got onto the highlight reel and into the endzone with a 30-yard option keeper to put the contest out of reach at 41-24 with less than nine minutes to play. As it did a season ago, the four-man rushing rotation of Jones, Olivo, West and Blackwell produced efficient results. "Those four guys are a team; you can't separate them. They can stay fresh and play like the dickens, and that's what they do," Smith said.
Knickman stepped in and did his job, capping off the scoring with his third field goal in as many attempts on the night, a 39-yarder. The fifth-year senior established himself as a fixture on the starting unit with solid kickoffs as well, earning the game ball from his coach. The victory put the Tigers at 1-0 for the first time since the 1995 season and extended MU's winning streak to three games, dating back to 1996. In those three contests Mizzou posted more than 40 points each time.
|M - FG Knickman 47|
|M - West 10 run (Knickman kick)|
|EM - FG Ventura 26|
|M - FG Knickman 42|
|EM - Douglas 6 pass from Batch (Ventura kick)|
|M - Olivo 2 run (Knickman kick)|
|EM - Edwards 5 run (Ventura kick)|
|M - West 1 run (Knickman kick)|
|M - Olivo 2 run (Knickman kick)|
|EM - Douglas 19 pass from Batch (Ventura kick)|
|M - C. Jones 30 run (Knickman kick)|
|M - FG Knickman 39|
|ATT - 52,514|
|Time of possession||23:14||36:46|
RUSHING - EMU: M Scott 12-53, Batch 2-26, Edwards 3-13, Barbera 2-4, Washington 1-1. M: Blackwell 12-116, Olivo 19-105, West 22-76, C. Jones 9-68, Janes 3-9, Rhodes 1-5, Hansen 1-3.
PASSING - EMU: Batch 17-38-2-256, Barbera 1-2-0-11. M: C. Jones 2-12-0-58.
RECEIVING - EMU: Douglas 4-36, Sheffield 3-89, Ali 3-61, M Scott 3-17, Edwards 2-25, B Campbell 1-20, Green 1-11, Crnkovic 1-8. MU: Murchison 1-42, Coleman 1-16.
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