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Another close call

3 blocks doom USC to one more 'coulda' loss

By Joseph Person
The State
Published: November 12, 2006
GAINESVILLE, Fla. As they lined up a 47-yard field-goal attempt that would decide the game, USC holder Ike Crofoot told place-kicker Ryan Succop that he would make it.

Succop would drill it through the uprights in the north end zone of Florida Field, making Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier a winner Saturday in his return to the Swamp as an opposing coach.

Instead, Jarvis Moss leaped and got a hand on the kick. The ball fell about 20 yards short of the goal line as time expired, preserving the sixth-ranked Gators' 17-16 victory and extending the Gamecocks' run of close losses.

Spurrier's long-anticipated homecoming played out much like the rest of his second season at USC.

"Coulda, woulda, shoulda," Spurrier said. "If this, if that. Blah, blah, blah."

USC (5-5, 3-5 in SEC) fell to 0-5 against top-25 teams, dropping the last four games to ranked opponents by a total of 21 points.

A year after upsetting Florida 30-22 in Columbia, the Gamecocks had their school-record, SEC road winning streak snapped at five and remained winless in 11 trips to Gainesville.

"I wanted to win as bad for (Spurrier) as I wanted to for myself," USC quarterback Blake Mitchell said. "We would have made history if we had won. But we didn't."

Florida (9-1, 7-1 SEC), which had clinched the SEC East crown a week earlier, kept its national championship hopes intact.

In the process, second-year coach Urban Meyer stepped a little further out of the shadow of Spurrier, who won six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship during his 12-year reign at Florida.

"It's much better for Urban now than he won it," said Florida co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, a former USC assistant. "But I don't know if that shadow will ever go away."

USC refused to go away after Florida took a 1-point lead on quarterback Tim Tebow's 12-yard touchdown run with 3:03 remaining. Tebow, the Gators' 229-pound, designated runner, had 29 yards on five carries, two of which converted fourth-and-1 situations.

"Everybody in the stadium knew where he was running," Spurrier said. "Yet we couldn't stop it."

Taking over at their 25-yard line after Tebow's touchdown, the Gamecocks quickly moved into Florida territory on back-to-back completions by Mitchell. As the crowd of 90,703 ח the third largest in Florida Field history continued to get louder, USC left tackle Jamon Meredith was whistled for a false start, wiping out a long reception by Sidney Rice and backing up USC to the 40-yard line.

Freddie Brown's 9-yard catch took the Gamecocks to the 31 with 8 seconds left and brought out Succop for the potential game-winner. As the Gators called a timeout to try to ice him, Crofoot talked with Succop, who had two earlier kicks ח a field goal and extra point blocked.

"I told him he's got it. I told him this is what we practice for everyday," Crofoot said. "He hit it good. He hit it real good. He's a great kicker. It's too bad."

Succop had made 12 of 13 field goals entering the game; his .923 percentage was tied for fifth nationally. And the sophomore had not missed an extra point in 22 tries.

But the twin-tower tandem of 6-foot-6 Moss and 6-3 Ray McDonald combined to block three of Succop's kicks, including an extra point that would have put USC up 17-10 after Mike Davis' second touchdown run with 8:13 left.

After watching Succop boot a 55-yard field goal that was nullified by a delay of game penalty in the second quarter, Strong told his defense it needed "to do something to get this thing blocked."

Moss obliged, getting a good jump despite playing all of the Gators' 62 defensive snaps.

"It was huge," Moss said. "That was the biggest play I've ever made in my career."

With the exception of the extra point, which came off his foot low, Succop said he hit the other kicks like he has all season. Spurrier blamed neither Succop nor the line, giving Moss the credit.

"We were just trying to figure if we had our biggest guys there," he said. "I think he would have blocked anybody's kick. I may be wrong."

The Gamecocks had other mistakes.

The normally sure-handed Rice could not hang on to a touchdown pass from the Gators' 33. And for the third consecutive week, USC gave up a first-half score when one of its defensive backs failed to make a play on a ball, resulting in a tipped pass for a touchdown reception.

Those plays negated a strong showing by Mitchell, who completed 24 of 33 passes for 275 yards in his first start since Sept. 9 against Georgia. Davis also had a good night, rushing for a season-high 94 yards and two scores on 16 carries.

But in the end, USC found itself in a familiar position.

"When you fall short so many times, it lets you know that you can play with these guys," said Syvelle Newton, the former quarterback who started at safety. "But we want to get some of these wins."

Time is wasting.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.
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"I wanted to win as bad for (Spurrier) as I wanted to for myself.  We would have made history if we had won. But we didn't."  ~Blake Mitchell (on the Florida Game)