Missouri State's expectations are higher than a disappointing first-round FCS Playoff loss

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  • Bobby Petrino
    Bobby Petrino
    American football player and coach

When Missouri State got the ball back with 1:45 left in the game, the Bears figured they were going to drive down the field for the game-winning score. It's what they've done all season.

The "Cardiac Bears" made their appearances every other weekend while leading Missouri State back to the postseason for the second season in a row. The magical duo of Bobby Petrino and Jason Shelley surely had one more trick of its sleeve.

Even after they made the same mistakes that they've made all season that kept those past games close — muffed punts, fumbles, inopportune penalties — the Bears figured they were going to pull off another classic comeback that would be remembered forever.

It didn't happen.

More: Missouri State football plagued by turnovers in FCS Playoff loss to UT-Martin

Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Shelley moved the Bears to UT Martin's 46 and appeared to have a chance to kick a game-winning field goal. On second-and-1 with just over a minute remaining, Shelley threw a pass over the middle of the field to Naveon Mitchell. He was immediately hit and the ball popped into the air and intercepted.

Missouri State's season was over. The sixth turnover of the game gave UT Martin a 32-31 win in the Bears' first home playoff game at Plaster Stadium since 1990.

"We did everything to give it away," Petrino said. "I felt like right toward the end that we could go down and score and get ourselves out of here with a win but we didn't make it happen."

More: No Missouri State 'Cardiac Bears' magic this time: Takeaways from FCS Playoff loss to UT Martin

Jason Shelley, of Missouri State, passes the ball during the Bears' 32-31 loss to the UT-Martin Skyhawks in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Jason Shelley, of Missouri State, passes the ball during the Bears' 32-31 loss to the UT-Martin Skyhawks in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Against an opponent the Bears were heavily favored against, which was without its Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year quarterback and a number of other starters, Missouri State turned the ball over six times and lost the game.

Three of the turnovers led to Skyhawk touchdowns, one ended with a field goal and another ended in victory formation. Even when the Bears held the eighth-best rushing attack in the country to 89 yards, their self-inflicted mistakes cost them a chance at their first postseason win since 1989.

"I wouldn't say that I'm too much disappointed because that's life," starting linebacker Tylar Wiltz said. "Somebody told me outside that you have to keep moving. There's something we all could have done better out there — completed passes, missed tackles, line movements — we all could have done better."

Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

It isn't lost on Missouri State that the expectations are higher than they've ever been.

A historic nine-month stretch in Missouri State football history saw Petrino lead the Bears to their first two postseason appearances since 1990, a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title in the spring and a number of notable achievements along the way.

But the Bears were capable of being better than what they showed on their home field, which hadn't hosted that big of a game in decades aside from a few high school state championships sprinkled in here and there.

Instead of celebrating what would have been one of the great wins in the history of the program, the Bears are sent into an offseason with what should be a sour taste in their mouths.

"We definitely went into the game expecting to win the game," Petrino said. "We want to get in the playoffs and advance in the playoffs and win. That's what our goals are."

Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Missouri State enters its first real offseason under Petrino after the pandemic impacted both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The Bears had been playing since having three games in fall 2020, nine games in the spring and 12 this fall with no regular break in-between.

As long as Petrino is on the Bears' sideline, expectations will be high as they enter a 2022 season that starts Sept. 1, 2022, at Central Arkansas and is followed the next week when UT Martin comes back to Plaster Stadium. The 2022 season will also feature Petrino's highly-anticipated return to a Fayetteville sideline on Sept. 17.

The Bears will have the majority of their roster returning for the 2022 season — which includes Shelley, cornerback Montrae Braswell and pass-rusher Kevin Ellis. The talent is there but six turnovers are difficult for any team to overcome.

Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Missouri State lost to the UT-Martin Skyhawks 32-31 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Gone are the days the Bears should be patted on the back for keeping games close against good teams and first-round postseason exits.

Missouri State, with the coaching staff and athletes on its roster, has shown time after time that it's capable of better.

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at wwheeler@news-leader.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri State football: Bears upset in FCS Playoffs first round

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