This game was about maintaining the SEC's decade-long Cotton Bowl dominance in which the Tigers were responsible for the league's only blemish.
"That was always in the back our mind," said running back Henry Josey, who ran for three touchdowns. "We had to hold up the rep for the SEC."
Josey's final score was a 16-yarder with 3:08 left to finally put Mizzou ahead to stay in a wild fourth quarter, and Shane Ray returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown after that in a 41-31 victory over the No. 13 Cowboys late Friday night.
The former Big 12 and Big Eight rivals traded scores on six consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter, until Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf was sacked by Michael Sam and fumbled with a minute left. Ray scooped up the ball and rumbled down the sideline in front of the stunned Cowboys bench to score.
"The first thing I started screaming. I didn't want him to pick it up and bobble it, then they get the ball back," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. "I was mad for about 2 yards after he picked it up and started running with it. Then I re-evaluated myself and thought it was a good idea."
SEC East champion Missouri (12-2) matched its school record for victories and gave the SEC its 10th win in the last 11 Cotton Bowls, all against the Big 12.
The end of the Cotton Bowl was eerily similar for the Cowboys (10-3) to their regular-season finale a month ago, a 33-24 home loss to Oklahoma that cost them the Big 12 title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.
Desmond Roland had a go-ahead 1-yard run with 1:46 left that day, but the Sooners drove to score with 19 seconds left and added a 3-yard fumble recovery for a score on the final play of that game.
"It's tough. We had two opportunities to do that, and came up short both times," Chelf said. "It's disappointing."
Roland bulled through the line with 5 minutes left in the Cotton Bowl for a 2-yard TD, dragging Ray with him into the end zone. Ray hit him at the line but couldn't keep the running back from scoring the TD that gave the Cowboys their only lead, 31-27, only a few minutes after they thought they had a game-turning play.
Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon was in the end zone with his jubilant teammates after returning an interception for an apparent go-ahead touchdown with about 9 minutes left. A penalty flag, though, quickly doused the celebration and Mizzou turned the break into a tiebreaking field goal.
"I didn't see it. I just saw two guys competing for the ball," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said, saying he was only told by the referees that Patmon interfered without getting a real explanation.
"It's unfortunate. That play would have turned the game," Cowboys linebacker Shaun Lewis said.
The Cowboys had won the last three games in the series, including 45-24 at Columbia during the 2011 season when they last met as Big 12 foes. Mizzou now leads the overall series 29-23 after meeting in a bowl game for the first time, and in the Tigers' first game against a Big 12 team since leaving that league.
Josey's go-ahead TD came a play after James Franklin's 27-yard pass to Dorial Green-Beckham to convert third-and-9. Franklin, the Missouri quarterback whose final two seasons were plagued by injuries, had two fumbles when Oklahoma State overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit to tie the game in just over 3 1/2 minutes.
Franklin was only 15 of 40 passing for 174 yards with an interception, and the near pick-six nullified by a penalty.
Chelf was 33 of 57 for 381 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran 10 times for 48 yards, including a 23-yard run to convert a third-and-10 only a few plays before Sam got to him for an SEC-high 11 1/2 sacks and to match the Mizzou school record.
"What a game," said Pinkel, whose 102nd victory in his 13th season snapped a tie with Don Faurot for the most in school history. "All the drama you don't want as a coach in the fourth quarter. ... Fortunately, we made the plays we needed to make to win it at the end."