ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia coach Kirby Smart called defensive tackle Nazir Stackhouse’s improbable interception the “biggest play of the game.” Wide receiver Ladd McConkey proclaimed it was “the play of the year.”
Either way, the play helped the Bulldogs remain unbeaten yet another week. The pick also was the talk of the postgame interviews.
Stackhouse’s fourth-quarter interception helped protect No. 1 Georgia’s slim lead and the Bulldogs beat No. 14 Missouri 30-21 on Saturday for their 26th consecutive win.
Georgia (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 2 College Football Playoff) had to rally to win the key SEC East matchup against Missouri (7-2, 3-2, No. 12 CFP).
The Tigers led 13-10 early in the second half. Georgia answered with two straight touchdowns, a 15-yard run by Kendall Milton and Carson Beck’s 5-yard scoring pass to Oscar Delp. Beck completed 21 of 32 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Georgia led 27-21 when Stackhouse, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound senior, picked off Brady Cook’s short pass. Stackhouse rambled all the way to the Missouri 5, but a blindside block penalty against Bulldogs linebacker Smael Mondon Jr. pushed Georgia back to its 30.
“Huge,” said Smart of the interception, which Stackhouse said was his first at any level.
Added Smart of Stackhouse’s return: “It was slow motion. He didn’t realize how far he had to run. He was out of breath about halfway.”
Stackhouse was shocked to see the ball come his way.
“I believe (Cook) was trying to throw the ball to the ground and Smael hit his hand and the ball came to me,” Stackhouse said.
Stackhouse said he was told he ran 17 or 18 mph on his return. Said Smart: “No chance. Only way he can hit 18 mph is on his bike or in his car.”
Following the interception, Daijun Edwards’ 22-yard run helped set up a 48-yard field goal by Peyton Woodring, the freshman’s third of the game and longest of his career, that extended the lead.
Georgia’s defense came through with another interception when safety Javon Bullard picked off Cook’s deep pass with 1:36 remaining.
“He got us to the fourth quarter and he was tough and gritty like he always is,” said Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz of Cook.
“We’ve got to see what happened on the turnovers,” Drinkwitz said, but added “I’m not disappointed at all” in the play of his quarterback.
Milton’s scoring run was an important lift for the Bulldogs’ sluggish running game. The Tigers took a 151-131 advantage in rushing yards.
Cody Schrader’s 12-yard scoring run and Cook’s 2-point pass to Luther Burden III, who had a touchdown catch earlier in the game, cut Georgia’s lead to 24-21. Schrader had 22 carries for 112 yards.
“We came here to win,” Schrader said. “That was our objective. That is our objective every week. We just didn’t get the job done today.”
Dominic Lovett, a Missouri transfer, caught a 6-yard scoring pass for the Bulldogs’ only touchdown of the first half.
Despite Georgia’s long winning streak, the hard-fought first half was no surprise. The Bulldogs had to rally from a 10-point deficit to win at Missouri 26-22 last season.
“We are disappointed because we put ourselves in a position to contend for the SEC East, which is the goal we have in place,” Drinkwitz said. “That is really not going to be in our control any longer. We have to refocus on what our new goals are.”
The Tigers survived a scare when Burden held his left ankle and was examined on the field in the second quarter. Burden returned later in the half and had three catches for 53 yards.
Mevis gave Missouri a 13-10 lead with a 42-yard field goal which gave the senior the school’s career scoring record, passing Jeff Wolfert’s 363 points from 2006-08.
Georgia can be expected to extend its roll of holding the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 poll for an SEC-record 20 consecutive weeks. Yet to be determined if the win will be enough to boost the Bulldogs past Ohio State for the CFP ranking top spot. Missouri may drop but should remain in the Top 25.
Missouri: The Tigers had success against a Georgia offensive line which had allowed only six sacks through eight games. Missouri, which was tied for 17th in the nation with 24 sacks, dropped Beck twice in the first half and three times for the game. Beck and Schrader were the difference-makers on the ground.
Georgia: The Bulldogs struggled to run the ball consistently, putting more pressure on a Georgia passing game that was missing injured tight end Brock Bowers for the second straight game. Beck overcame three sacks to answer the challenge.
Missouri: The Tigers play another game against a tough SEC East rival when they host No. 19 Tennessee next Saturday.
Georgia: Continues its stretch of three consecutive games against ranked teams when it hosts No. 11 Mississippi next Saturday.
Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football