USC rallies to end Tigers' five-peat
CLEMSON As traffic bottlenecked at the locker room gate, USC's stars each received a hero's send-off.
Syvelle Newton generated the loudest cheers in the single-file procession, grinning widely with a fist-pump as the school
band blasted. Junior tailback Cory Boyd wept, admittedly reflecting on his long road to vindication.
quarterback Blake Mitchell broke out his Joe Namath impersonation, playing to the garnet masses crammed around the exit by
shaking the No. 1 signal.
No. 24 Clemson's pursuit of one for the thumb culminated in the Gamecocks' long-waited extension
of the index finger.
A missed 39-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining saw to that.
The Gamecocks had held
on to edge the Tigers 31-28 Saturday afternoon, snapping Clemson's four-game winning streak which predated the arrival of
most USC players and coaches.
"Those fans have seen us get beat many times," Mitchell said. "It feels great to give
them bragging rights for a year."
Said USC coach Steve Spurrier: "They lived with a lot of crap over the years, a lot
more than me and most all of our players who've only been here like two, three years. So, we don't know this rivalry quite
as well as our fans know it."
There had not been much to debate the past decade, other than details of the Tigers'
But the latest chapter offered its share of highlights, plot twists and an epic ending ח ultimately
providing USC (7-5) a dose of redemption and bowl security while giving Clemson's season-ending tailspin a last whirl.
Succop's 35-yard field goal with 7:51 remaining gave the Gamecocks their first lead on a day when their offense was stopped
solely by turnovers.
Needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to prevail, the Tigers (8-4) losers of three of their
past four games ח rode their vaunted running game down the field, clawing to a first down at USC's 13-yard line with
Yet with their hot hand on the bench freshman tailback C.J. Spiller (155 rushing yards and two touchdowns
on 10 carries) sidelined earlier in the drive with a sprained right ankle ח sophomore James Davis, netted 4 yards on
two subsequent carries, forcing Clemson into a passing situation.
USC junior linebacker Jasper Brinkley then burst
through untouched to sack Clemson senior quarterback Will Proctor, pushing the Tigers into trying a 39-yard field goal from
the left hash in hopes of overtime.
With Gamecocks screaming from his right side to create the perception of a lopsided
bull rush, senior Jad Dean hooked his kick wide left, setting off a celebration on the USC sideline.
"This is the worst
loss I've ever had as a Tiger, especially coming that close," senior center Dustin Fry said. "It's just a terrible feeling."
a rare one, to boot.
Clemson had prevailed in eight of the past nine meetings, the only blip a 20-15 defeat in 2001.
6-1 record in the rivalry had granted coach Tommy Bowden a trump card for all criticisms, especially after his success carried
over from Lou Holtz's tenure as USC coach through Spurrier's first crack at Clemson a year ago.
Bowden threatened to
emerge as the second Clemson coach in the series' 104-game history to beat the Gamecocks five times in a row, a mark dating
to the late 1930s.
He joked afterward that he had forgotten what it was like to lose to USC.
"I remember now,"
he said. "Your memory comes back pretty quick when you lose."
"You never want to lose to your rival. But I think you
have to be realistic. Sure, I'd love for it to have been five out of five. Five out of five hasn't been done in 66 years.
There's a reason it hasn't been done in 66 years. It's hard to do."
As evidence, USC has beaten Clemson seven out of
the eight times the Tigers have tried for a fifth-consecutive triumph in the series.
Perhaps that explained why Spurrier
told sophomore receiver Kenny McKinley this win qualified as a hug game.
"Coach said it's only a rivalry if we win
one here or there," USC sophomore receiver Sidney Rice said.
"We got one."
-- Paul Strelow
‘We finally caught the Tiger’
USC ends years of frustration as rivals battle valiantly down to the wire
By Ron MorrisCLEMSON
- It's a rivalry again.
South Carolina's stirring 31-28 victory against Clemson on Saturday at Death Valley put
the spirit back into a rivalry that for most of the past three decades has been so one-sided as to render it not much of a
rivalry at all.
It is not much fun when your brother makes you cry "uncle" day after day, or in this case, when Clemson
annually pulls the traveling Hardee's trophy that goes to the winner out of the case, dusts it off and puts it back in place.
entered the game having won the past four meetings with USC and eight of the past nine. USC last made this rivalry close to
even when it won five out of seven from 1964 to 1970.
You could argue that one win does not turn the tide in any series,
unless you are talking about one that has Steve Spurrier on one sideline. Having him orchestrate USC's show sheds a different
light on this century-old get-together.
Saturday's win showed Spurrier can take a program that is in its virtual infancy
and a team with far less talent and play toe-to-toe with a program that is eight years in the making and features a dazzling
assortment of players.
For Clemson, beating USC had become a rite of fall. Even coach Tommy Bowden admitted afterward
that he had forgotten the feeling of losing to USC, since it last happened in 2001.
"I remember it now," he said. "It
comes back pretty quick when you lose. ... When you don't lose very often, which we haven't, it definitely hurts a lot more.
Now, I see why you want to win it every year."
As sour as the taste was for Bowden and Clemson, it was equally as sweet
ח or more so for USC and its fans.
Interestingly enough, Spurrier has downplayed the rivalry since the day he
arrived in Columbia. He removed "Beat Clemson" signs from the USC locker room at Williams-Brice Stadium. He often reminded
his team and his fans that beating Clemson is not as important as winning conference games that could lead to a championship.
admitted he has not been involved in this rivalry long enough ח- nor has his coaching staff or some of his players -
to truly understand the significance of beating Clemson.
But he has heard enough from USC fans about the hatred between
the two programs to know what it means to them. So, as he prepared his team this week, and again in the locker room afterward,
Spurrier said this game ח and victory was for USC fans.
"It was extremely important to our fans," Spurrier said.
was most evident afterward as USC players left the field and headed to their lockerroom, nearly every one saluting the chanting
and cheering throng. Center Chris White turned his helmet backward, pushed it up on his forehead and grabbed a huge Gamecocks
flag that he gleefully waved in front of the faithful.
"It's a rivalry for me, no doubt about that," USC sophomore
receiver Kenny McKinley said. "It's a big game. Next year, I can't wait to play these guys next year. They beat us (four)
times, and we want to see how many times we can beat them."
Senior safety Syvelle Newton said the four-year wait for
a win over Clemson was worth the wait.
"To end my college career ... what was going through my mind was we finally
got them, we finally beat them," Newton said. "We finally caught the Tiger. It just felt great. I'm just going to enjoy this
win, probably enjoy it for the rest of my life. It's something we can always go back and talk about, this win right here."
said USC players and fans might someday remember this game as the turning point in the rivalry and in the program's history.
said Saturday's win could prove to be as significant to USC as a victory at Alabama was to Florida early in his first season
there. He said Florida got few breaks in that game yet persevered to win, 17-13, and his Gators were off and running to an
eventual national championship and six Southeastern Conference crowns.
"Hopefully, whatever bad things happened to
South Carolina football may be erased today," he said. "Sometimes a game like this can do it, but time will tell if this one
we can look back on two, three, four, five years from now and say that was a turnaround game."
That indeed might take
time. But how USC overcame three interceptions and a 14-point, second-half deficit was a sure sign that Saturday's game was
a turning point in the rivalry with Clemson.
Spurrier traditionally distributes game balls following victories. He
started the practice during his days coaching at Duke and carried it through his 12 seasons at Florida. He passed a few out
to deserving players, including one to quarterback Blake Mitchell, following Saturday's game.
Then he announced to
the team that game balls would go to all USC fans.
"So, at Gamecock Club (meetings) this summer come by and be ready
to purchase your game ball," Spurrier said. "I'll assure you, I'll autograph it for anyone who wants one."
fan, Charles Stewart of Fountain Inn, waited around afterward to pat Gamecock players on the back as they walked toward awaiting
buses. Stewart said he would be first in line this summer to purchase a game ball for his "Gamecock room" at home.
surest sign that the USC-Clemson rivalry is back was illustrated on both of Stewart's hands. His bleeding fingernails had
been chewed to the nub.