Missouri senior safety Ronnell Perkins didn’t expect to enter his name into the record books during Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina at Faurot Field.
But with the Gamecocks driving the ball late in the third quarter trying to cut into Missouri’s lead, Perkins made one of the biggest plays of the game with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. The 14-point swing put MU ahead 31-14 and ensured the Tigers would stay on top for good.
Missouri added a Tucker McCann field goal in the fourth quarter to beat the Gamecocks 34-14. The win was Barry Odom’s first as head coach against South Carolina.
Missouri improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, while South Carolina dropped to 1-3 and 0-2 in conference play.
Perkins’ interception for a touchdown topped Marcus King’s 99-yarder versus South Carolina in the Independence Bowl in 2005 for the longest pick-six in program history.
It was also Missouri’s seventh all-time 100-yard scoring play: four on kickoff returns, two on fumble recoveries and Perkins' end zone-to-end zone dash.
Perkins said he didn’t think his interception was going to be as easy as it was.
“I looked right at him (Ryan Hilinski) and he looked right in my eyes and threw it into my chest,” Perkins said. “After that I just wanted to take off and run as fast as I can. I could have gone another 300. I wasn't tired at all. As a defensive player you really don't get your hands on the ball a lot, so you have to show them what you got.”
As it turned out, Perkins' pick was one of two big defensive plays for the Tigers in the game. Senior linebacker Cale Garrett made a huge play early in the first quarter with a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Missouri coach Barry Odom said “Perk’s” play was huge.
“I think if they had scored it would be a three-point game at that point,” Odom said. “(MU defensive coordinator) Ryan Walters made a heck of a call on one of the coverages he really felt strong about. Perk bobbled it and luckily just had enough juice to get to the other end zone.
"You never know. I'm so happy for Ronnell. The guy is a senior from St. Louis and he's poured his heart and soul into this program. He is a good one-two punch with Khalil (Oliver).”
Oliver, a senior, said he was excited to see his fellow safety score the touchdown.
“Perk and I talk about it every day,” Oliver said. “If he gets one I am going to try and get one. We are always trying to one-up on each other. I was happy for him. I was trying to be the first one out there to jump and celebrate with him. I think it was good to just see everything come to fruition for him.”
Perkins, a graduate of University City High School, grabbed his first career interception in Week 2 against West Virginia. Prior to the game against South Carolina, Perkins had played 26 defensive snaps and made three tackles, including one for a loss in the season opener against Wyoming.
While taking a redshirt season in 2015, Perkins came on as a playmaker in Missouri’s secondary in 2016 while making four starts and playing in all 12 games. He finished that season with 43 tackles (28 solos), 3 1/2 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.
In 2017, Perkins saw action in 10 games and made two starts in the Tigers’ secondary. He finished the season with 27 tackles, with 18 of those solo stops, while adding a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and one pass breakup.
Perkins also had his biggest game as a Tiger that same year against Kentucky, when he recorded a career-best 10 tackles, including a tackle for loss.
Last season for the Tigers, Perkins played both safety and outside linebacker, starting three games. He also made three late-season starts, including the Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State. Perkins finished 2018 with 18 tackles, including two tackles for loss and one quarterback sack, while adding one pressure.
Perkins said he’s just going out and trying to make plays for the Tigers.
“I'm just trying to go out with a bang and help the team and be a team player,” Perkins said.
So far so good for Perkins and the Tigers, who get a week off before hosting Troy on Oct. 5.