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Tigers get spark from unlikely source in 14-0 win over Cyclones

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Missouri was sputtering on offense and its 7-0 lead seemed tenuous.

The Tigers needed a spark — and it came from an unlikely source.

Punter Matt Grabner ran 15 yards on a fake on fourth-and-2 at his own 28, enabling No. 15 Missouri to continue a drive that resulted in a touchdown and finished off a 14-0 victory over Iowa State on Saturday night.

“Momentum-wise, that was huge for us,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We scored on that drive and the way our defense was playing, that was really good.”

On a chilly night in the heartland, Missouri (9-2, 5-2 Big 12) played stout defense and made just enough plays with the ball to deny Iowa State (5-7, 3-5) the victory it needed for bowl eligibility.

Blaine Gabbert threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Michael Egnew in the first quarter and De’Vion Moore scored from the 1 in the second half after the Tigers surprised Iowa State with the fake.

“It feels really good when you know your defense can go out there and make the stop,” Egnew said. “They did that and it was a heck of a game for them.”

Missouri won its second straight after a two-game losing streak spoiled a 7-0 start and has nine victories for only the sixth time in school history.

With the regular-season finale against Kansas and a bowl game to go, the Tigers could reach 10 wins for the fourth time. After Nebraska’s 9-6 loss to Texas A&M, Missouri still could win the Big 12 North if it beats Kansas and Nebraska loses to Colorado.

Iowa State, which broke out special gold jerseys for the game, had to go with sophomore Jerome Tiller at quarterback in place of the injured Austen Arnaud. Tiller, making his third career start, gave the Cyclones a lift at times with his running, but he completed only 13-of-31 passes for 155 yards and lost a fumble at the Missouri 30 when the Cyclones were driving.

“To get a shutout on the road ... is very difficult, so at the end I was very happy for our football team and certainly for our defense that they could maintain that,” Pinkel said. “That says an awful lot about them. We bend a little bit, but we find ways to make plays.”

Arnaud, a three-year starter, had his college career end when he tore ligaments in his left knee in a 34-14 loss at Colorado a week ago. He was introduced with the other seniors before kickoff and encouraged Tiller and offered him advice on the sideline during the game.

Gabbert finished 16-of-26 for 172 yards with no interceptions, while Egnew caught seven passes for 77 yards. But the Tigers’ offense overall never generated much rhythm and stalled repeatedly.

Iowa State just couldn’t do enough with Tiller to capitalize. The Cyclones needed one victory in their last three games to become eligible for a second straight bowl appearance, but they lost all three and wound up with their fourth losing season in five years.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “College football is all about bowl games. Not having that opportunity is very disappointing because we had opportunities to get the six and beyond and we didn’t do that.”

Clinging to a 7-0 lead late in the third quarter, Missouri lined up in punt formation at its own 28 after falling 2 yards short of a first down. But Iowa State left the middle of the field open and Grabner sprinted straight ahead for a first down at his own 43.

“We were looking to make sure they weren’t filling any gaps by the center and we saw they only had one or two guys there,” Grabner said. “We practiced it that way all week.”

While the Cyclones were caught off guard, Rhoads was more disappointed his team allowed Missouri to keep driving.

“Crucial, critical, whatever other words I could throw on it — because we didn’t respond to it,” he said.

Gabbert hit Egnew, his tight end, for gains of 11 and 16 yards and ran 15 yards on a quarterback draw. The Tigers got a scare when Gabbert fumbled as he was hit, but teammate T.J. Moe recovered at the ISU 6 and Moore scored two plays later.

Missouri managed to put together an 80-yard scoring drive during what was otherwise a dull first half. Take away that drive and the Tigers produced just 98 firsthalf yards on 23 plays.

“We know sometimes our offense is going to struggle and that is going to be the time we have to step up and answer the call,” Missouri cornerback Carl Gettis said. “We were able to do that tonight on defense getting the shutout.”

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