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Missouri holds on for victory over Arizona State

By Terez A. Paylor, The Kansas City Star –

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Corbin Berkstresser stood on the sidelines, helmet on, hands at his sides, swaying gently back and forth. His big moment was coming, though few knew it at the time.

Missouri’s game against Arizona State was set to begin on Saturday night, and after the Tigers fielded the opening kickoff, Berkstresser — not James Franklin — trotted onto the field with the offense, right into the role he always wanted:

Missouri’s starting quarterback.

Make no mistake that the defense — led by safety Kenronte Walker — came up with two big stops late in the fourth quarter and secured Missouri’s 24-20 victory.

But Berkstresser, a redshirt freshman who graduated from Lee’s Summit High School, also played a role by making his starting debut a good one. He ran for a touchdown, absorbed a beating and generally showed enough command of the offense before a sellout crowd of 71,004 at Memorial Stadium.

The selection of Berkstresser as the starter ended a whirlwind 24 hours of speculation about the health of Franklin, the Tigers’ starter. While Franklin was not listed on MU’s injury report earlier in the week, reports surfaced Friday that he may not play.

Although Franklin — who suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder during the spring — threw passes during pregame warmups, MU coach Gary Pinkel told ESPN before the game that Franklin would sit out because of an inflamed bursa sac in his elbow. Pinkel also said Franklin, who accumulated 36 total touchdowns in his first year as a starter last season, refused a pain injection.

Just like that, for the first time since 2002 — Pinkel’s second season as MU coach — the Tigers had their starting quarterback miss a game. But Berkstresser acquitted himself fairly well, completing 21 of 41 passes for 198 yards and rushing 18 times for 25 yards and a touchdown.

And though he battled with his accuracy — he threw an interception and his passes were sometimes off — he came through in the second half.

With the Missouri defense rolling and the Tigers in position to expand on a 17-7 lead, Berkstresser completed two big passes on a third-quarter scoring drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Kendial Lawrence, who finished with 62 yards and two touchdowns in 16 carries.

Arizona State, then trailing 24-7, made a game of it in the fourth quarter, when it completed a 9-play, 36-yard scoring march that was set up by Missouri’s own doing. The Tigers’ previous possession ended horribly, as a bad snap led to punter Trey Barrow trying a pass that didn’t get the first down and gave the Sun Devils excellent field position.

The Tigers’ offense stalled again after that drive, and Arizona State scored again, cutting its deficit to 24-20. Missouri caught a break when the Sun Devils botched the extra point.

Missouri tried to answer on its next drive, and Berkstresser made a play, finding L’Damian Washington for a first down on third and long. A block-in-the-back penalty of T.J. Moe gave Missouri third and 3, and Moe redeemed himself by hauling in a pass.

That set up Baggett’s fourth field goal-attempt of the game — he’d already missed two — and he missed this one wide left.

Fortunately for Missouri, the defense stepped up. Arizona State marched down the field — the Sun Devils were aided by a 15-year facemask penalty on defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and a pass interference penalty on Kip Edwards — but Walker knocked away a fourth-and-goal pass in the end zone.

After a big punt return, Arizona State started a potential game-winning drive at Missouri’s 21 with 1 minute, 58 seconds left.

But Walker picked off a third-down pass over the middle and ran it back to the Missouri 49, preserving the victory.

With the win, the Tigers improved to 2-1. They head on the road for the first time next Saturday as they travel to Columbia, S.C., to face the eighth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks.

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