KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Unthinkable in September, Missouri is one victory away from playing for its first national championship.
Chase Daniel threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns and the third-ranked Tigers ruined No. 2 Kansas's unbeaten season last night at Arrowhead Stadium with a 36-28 victory in the biggest game either school ever played.
As Big 12 North champions, the surprising Tigers (11-1, 7-1 Big 12) will head to San Antonio and a date in the Big 12 championship game Saturday with No. 10 Oklahoma, the only team to beat them this season. A victory there will almost certainly propel Missouri into the BCS national championship game Jan. 7.
"I'm excited about that, but we didn't get here thinking about it," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "You know, we had to win five straight games to have a chance to play in this one for the divisional championship. I'm just so proud of everybody."
Todd Reesing's 5-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Henry with 2:03 remaining drew the Jayhawks within 6 points, and Missouri's Tony Temple was stopped on third down to give the Jayhawks (11-1, 7-1) one last, slim chance.
Lorenzo Williams put the finishing touches on it for Missouri, sacking Reesing in the end zone for a safety with 12 seconds left. The Kansas quarterback walked off dejected, a muddy divot stuck in his face mask.
"I'm not in a happy mood right now," Reesing said. "It's frustrating."
The game between the bitter archrivals drew 80,537, the second-biggest crowd in the 35-year history of Arrowhead Stadium.
The Tigers, who had never won 11 games in a season, should become No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1960 and figure to be no worse than No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
On Friday, No. 1 LSU lost, 50-48, in three overtimes to unranked Arkansas. Fourth-ranked West Virginia routed No. 20 Connecticut, 66-21, yesterday and figures to move up at least one spot in the BCS standings to second. West Virginia finishes its season against Pittsburgh next week.
Kansas came into the contest second nationally, averaging almost 46 points a game, but fell behind, 21-0, before Reesing finally got the Jayhawks into the end zone. Scott Webb missed two field goals in the second quarter for the Jayhawks, who have been an even bigger surprise than Missouri up to this point and were gunning for what would have been their first national championship as well.
In what had been billed as a Heisman Trophy subplot in the 116th meeting of the rivals, Daniel was the star. He finished 40 of 49 with no interceptions and outplayed his Kansas counterpart.
Reesing had thrown a school-record 213 straight passes without an interception but was picked off twice, each leading to a Missouri touchdown. William Moore picked off a slightly underthrown ball intended for Dexton Fields at the 2 with 14:35 to go in the half, one play after Reesing hit Kerry Meier for a 40-yard gain to the Missouri 26.
Reesing finished 28 of 49 for 349 yards and two touchdowns.
Temple rushed for 98 yards for Missouri, which did not break into the national rankings until reaching No. 25 after the third week of the season. Danario Alexander caught eight passes for 117 yards, including a 16-yarder on third and 14 with 6:46 to play after Reesing's touchdown pass to Dexton Fields pulled Kansas within 31-21.
A moment later, Missouri's Jeff Wolfert kicked his second field goal, a 43-yarder, for a 34-21 lead with 3:31 to go.
Daniel managed to avoid turnovers, but the Tigers were flagged 14 times for 144 yards.