August 30, 2008

Tigers escape St. Louis with big win

ST. LOUIS--The Missouri Tigers gathered in front of the fans that remained inside the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday night and serenaded their faithful with the school fight song. The tune perfectly summed up the Tigers' effort against Illinois as they crooned, "In the end you'll win the victory."

The Tigers did, 52-42, but for a second straight year that victory over the Illini took a lot longer to secure than it appeared it was going to at halftime. With less than four minutes remaining Sean Weatherspoon grabbed his second interception of the night and returned it for a touchdown. The score put Missouri up 17 points and finally cemented a thrilling season-opening victory in St. Louis for the second straight season.

"You gotta finish," William Moore said as he slapped hands with the Tiger fans. "We did."

For the second straight season, the Tigers jumped to a huge lead in the third quarter. This time, Mizzou was ahead 45-20 midway through the third quarter after Tommy Saunders caught his second touchdown pass of the night. And then Juice Williams caught fire.

"You've got to give credit to Illinois. I thought they played a great game," Gary Pinkel said. "I thought Juice played a phenomenal game, made a lot of plays."

Five of those plays went for touchdown passes as the Illini fought and clawed until the very last play, which was another Williams TD strike.

"We made some mistakes, the biggest thing is just to forget what happened and come back and keep playing hard," Saunders said. "We got the win. We just scrapped through and grinded through and came out with the victory."

Despite the second-half question marks, the coach didn't want his team hanging their heads.

"My players were real disappointed and that really upsets me a little bit. I've been in this business a long time and when you win, you enjoy it," Pinkel said. "We didn't play an average team out there. They're a real good football team."

"Illinois is a damn good team," Chase Daniel added. "They're going to win a lot of games."

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