The matchup between Missouri State and South Dakota State on Saturday at 2 pm at Plaster Stadium will have historic significance.
The first top-five, top-five program in Plaster Stadium history marks another milestone since Bobby Petrino took over as Bears head coach in 2020.
If you can remember in 2019, the Bears’ football program wasn’t very good; in fact, there were many who wanted the show to be disbanded entirely.
For many years before Petrino’s arrival, there haven’t been too many big games in the show’s history. The Bears have had opportunities for big wins in the past and rarely took them.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest games in Missouri State football history and how the Bears performed in them:
Plus: Why the football game No. 4 Missouri State vs. South Dakota State is already a historic duel
First victory over a ranked opponent in 1987
September 12, 1987
After losing five straight against ranked opponents when the Bears moved to Division I-AA in 1981, they finally broke through in a road game at No. 15 Southern Illinois.
The Bears controlled the first half with a 12-0 lead but allowed 13 unanswered in the third quarter. An Elijah Dukes 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Bears an 18-13 lead. SIU entered the Bears 13-yard line with less than a minute to go, but a key drive turned into a sack and the Salukis were powerless afterward.
The win didn’t seem all that appealing after SIU went 3-8 that season, but it was still one of the first historic moments for the Missouri State program.
The only FCS Playoff win came on the Bears’ first down.
November 25, 1989
Hosting their first FCS Playoffs game while making their first appearance, the Bears posted their only postseason win in program history.
A 38-35 victory over Maine is still considered the greatest football victory the state of Missouri has ever had. The back-and-forth matchup saw star quarterback DeAndre Smith walk out with an injury when Paul Carney relieved him and cemented his name in Bears history.
Carney rushed for the Bears’ last two touchdowns before bringing the Bears down for a 33-yard field goal by Chris Potthast with eight seconds left in the win.
Plus: Where Missouri State Football Needs a Massive Upgrade Heading For UT Martin Rematch
Chance to advance to the only FCS semifinal at Stephen F. Austin
December 2, 1989
In the Bears’ only FCS quarterfinal appearance, they were simply outclassed by a Stephen F. Austin team that threw for 405 yards while rushing for 208.
Smith, who tore knee cartilage in the previous week’s win and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery six days before the game, started and was effective, though the Bears couldn’t keep up in the loss by 55-25.
1990 season opener with win at UNLV
September 1, 1990
The 1990 season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start with the Bears notching their first win over an FBS program in school history. Thirty-two years later, it remains the only win over an FBS opponent.
UNLV tried to come back scoring 21 in a row to tie the game at 24. Smith then led a game-winning 63-yard drive that ended with him rushing the ball from eight yards.
Bobby Petrino makes his first visit to Springfield in the 1990 playoffs
November 24, 1990
Little did Missouri State know that 30 years later, their opposing team’s offensive coordinator in the 1990 playoffs would eventually become their head coach (and savior), but that’s exactly what happened.
Bobby Petrino’s Idaho offense sent the Bears home in 1990 with a 41-35 win. The Vandals had 578 yards of offense while wide receiver Kasey Dunn rushed for 234 yards. MSU quarterback DeAndre Smith had the Bears at Idaho 45 facing a fourth-and-11 with less than a minute remaining before completing a 10-yard pass and seeing Idaho go into a victory formation.
Missouri State kept missing the playoffs for the next 31 years.
Plus: What Missouri State coach Bobby Petrino said Monday about his return to Arkansas
No. 5 Missouri State travels to No. 3 Northern Iowa managed by Terry Allen in 1996
October 19, 1996
The highest-ranked game in Missouri state football history, until Saturday, took place in 1996 when Del Miller’s Bears traveled to play who would eventually become the head coach of the MSU program.
The only game between the Bears and a top-five opponent while the Bears were ranked in the top five saw No. 3 Northern Iowa beat MSU 38-31 at Cedar Falls.
Missouri State put on a furious rally in the fourth quarter as they outscored the Panthers 22-0 and even had the ball inside the UNI 10 in the closing moments. Northern Iowa had a 31-9 lead over the Bears at halftime.
Hosting ranked opponents in consecutive weeks with a chance to make the playoffs in 1996
November 2, 1996 and November 9, 1996
Trying to push for the playoffs in the Bears’ sophomore year under Miller, they had two home games against ranked opponents just before a road trip to Indian State to close out the season.
Thirteenth-ranked Western Illinois beat the Bears 23-17, which was their third loss of the season with the other two coming to Oklahoma State (in overtime) and No. 3 Northern Iowa on the road.
With one last chance to make a statement, when the playoff field was smaller than it is now, the Bears lost the following week 17-13 against No. 23 Youngstown State. The Bears gave up the ball on downs at YSU 34 with 2:08 to go.
Missouri State beat Indiana State the following week, but it wasn’t enough. Northern Iowa and Western Illinois were the two teams that made the Gateway Conference postseason.
Largest crowd in Missouri State football history
August 28, 2014
The largest crowd in Bears history was on hand to watch them play their first home game at the recently remodeled Plaster Stadium. The announced attendance of 18,386 has yet to be surpassed.
The first home game of 2014 saw the Bears defeat North Dakota 38-0 behind Calan Crowder’s 119 rushing yards as they forced the Fighting Hawks to turn over three.
Missouri State finished the season 4-8 after losing its last five games in Terry Allen’s senior year.
Plus: 5 takeaways from the release of the 2022-23 Missouri State men’s basketball schedule
The Missouri Valley Football Conference Dealer at Plaster Stadium
April 10, 2021
Needing a win to clinch a piece of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and surely clinch a bid for the FCS Playoffs, the Bears did just that in their first season under Petrino.
A 21-10 victory over Youngstown State saw the Bears rally behind backup quarterback Jaden Johnson after Matt Struck was injured in the second quarter. Johnson led the Bears to three straight touchdown drives to secure the Bears their first title and trip to the postseason since 1990.
Missouri State’s first postseason appearance in 31 years
April 24, 2021
Missouri State’s dream season came to an end in its first playoff game in 31 years. The Fighting Hawks were too overwhelming in a 44-10 blowout.
The Fighting Hawks scored play after big play with touchdown passes of 50 and 48 yards in the first seven minutes of the game. The Bears only had 185 total yards of offense and allowed eight sacks.
Missouri State home playoff game vs. UT Martin
November 27, 2021
Back in the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Bears hosted a game for the first time since the first round of the 1990 postseason.
The game did not go as planned as the Bears turned the ball over six times. The sixth turnover came with the Bears marching down the field hoping to kick a game-winning field goal, but Jason Shelley’s third interception of the game came with 1:03 to go in UT Martin territory.
Plus: Missouri State football vs. Arkansas takeaways: Bears announce they’re real in the FCS title race
The highest ranked home game in the state of Missouri
September 24, 2022
This week, No. 4 Missouri State hosts No. 3 South Dakota State in their first top-five vs. top-five matchup since 1996. It will be the first to take place at Plaster Stadium.
The state of South Dakota is ranked No. 2 in the STATS FCS poll, while the Bears were ranked No. 4th in the FCS coaches’ poll, the highest ranking of MSU in the coaches’ poll.
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist for the Springfield News-Leader. He can be reached at 417-371-6987, via email at [email protected], or on Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He also co-hosts Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.