With a 17-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, No. 5 Missouri found itself 15 minutes away from having the opportunity to clinch the Southeastern Conference East Division with a win at home next week against Tennessee.
The only problem was that the Tigers had to face South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who entered Saturday night's game in the third quarter and converted 20 consecutive passes in the teams' matchup last year.
After pitching a shutout in the first half, Missouri yielded five consecutive Gamecocks scoring drives to end the game and lose 27-24 in two overtimes. Maty Mauk threw for 249 yards and a touchdown in his second career start, while Marcus Murphy added two scores on the ground.
But Andrew Baggett's 24-yard field goal attempt clanked off the left goal post, leaving the team in a vulnerable position as it finishes its schedule with four conference games. The Tigers' lead is down to one game in the division, and should South Carolina win at home against Mississippi State and Florida, Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC) would have to win out to clinch a trip to Atlanta on Dec. 7.
Coach Gary Pinkel avoided blaming Baggett for the loss, saying there were many plays that led to the outcome.
"This just gives us something to be hungry for," left tackle Justin Britt said. "Our goals aren't done.
Shaw asked to be put into the game after Dylan Thompson couldn't get the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2) into the end zone in the first half. He then threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns, including one in the first overtime with a 15-yard pass on fourth down to Bruce Ellington to match Murphy's 1-yard scamper.
"Dylan played awfully well most of the time he's played," coach Steve Spurrier said. "It was do or die. We had no chance in the division if we didn't win this one."
Shaw engineered fourth-quarter scoring drives of 65, 69 and 63 yards, and the Gamecocks knotted the score at 17 on a two-yard reception by Nick Jones with 42 seconds remaining. Ellington scored his first touchdown on a 6-yard catch with 12:13 remaining, and Elliott Fry added a 20-yard field goal with 5:03 left.
Thompson started his third career game for the Gamecocks, throwing for 222 yards. The Gamecocks outgained Missouri 498-404, but couldn't convert until Shaw entered.
Mike Davis caught three screen passes on South Carolina's final scoring drive in regulation, partly making up for two fumbles in the first half. The Gamecocks turned the ball over three consecutive times in the second quarter, helping Missouri take a 14-0 halftime lead.
Davis, who led the conference with 125.6 rushing yards per game entering the night, committed his first miscue at the Missouri 29-yard line with 12:30 remaining in the half, and his second halted a 71-yard drive at the Tigers' 2-yard line with 5:46 left. He finished the night with 51 rushing yards and 99 receiving yards while backup Shon Carson added 27 on the ground and 14 through the air.
Spurrier noted that despite the fumbles, Davis' key role down the stretch helped the Gamecocks come back.
"I didn't lose hope at all," Davis said. "Our guys, tonight we came together."
Davis' second fumble set the stage for a 96-yard touchdown pass from Maty Mauk to L'Damian Washington on Missouri's ensuing drive. Two yards deep in his own end zone, Mauk found Washington streaking toward the middle of the field for an easy first down, and then the receiver eluded two tackles at his 45-yard line before being untouched the rest of the way. The pass was Missouri's longest since a 98-yarder from Pete Woods to Joe Stewart at Nebraska in 1976.
Mauk struggled out of the gate, throwing a pass dropped by defender Sharrod Golightly and then an interception to Kaiwan Lewis, a far cry from the 41-yard pass and 20-yard touchdown toss he threw in his opening attempts last week in a 36-17 win against Florida. But Mauk then completed three of his next four to set up Missouri's first touchdown, an 11-yard scamper by Murphy with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers added a 27-yard field goal by Baggett with 6:46 left in the third quarter before he missed a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter wide left.
"I told our football team," Pinkel said. "The loss will not define us. What will define this football team is how we deal with it. . It stings, you feel awful. You feel terrible, and that's OK. But we've got to get going. We have a real good football team."