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The Rivalry
The Record

Slow and steady wins the race as Gamecocks upend Tigers

Published on 11/26/06
The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — For the longest time, South Carolina's offense appeared almost methodical as it plodded down the field alongside Clemson's big-play approach Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Tigers reeled off scoring plays of 76, 80 and 31 yards, and their defense added an interception return of 82 yards.

But in the end, slow and steady won the game.

South Carolina ran 72 plays to Clemson's 52, rolled up 492 yards in total offense to the Tigers' 372, managed 28 first downs to the Tigers' 15, and most importantly of all, won the game 31-28.

"We had to go the long way," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. "We didn't get a whole lot of big plays, didn't hit any big, long passes. We had to grind out a bunch of first downs, but that's sort of the way we've played most of the year."

South Carolina's scoring drives covered 64, 96, 34 and 52 yards.

The Gamecocks' longest touchdown play was a 9-yard run by tailback Mike Davis.

"We've got a lot of weapons," said South Carolina tailback Cory Boyd, who rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries. "We know we can go out there and compete with anybody in the nation as long as we don't kill ourselves. We tried to take every opportunity we could get."

South Carolina mixed the run and pass effectively, rushing for 208 yards and passing for 284.

Gamecock quarterback Blake Mitchell completed 23 of 36 passes for 268 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

Wide receiver Sidney Rice caught eight passes for 103 yards.

And even though the interceptions led to 14 points, and South Carolina trailed 28-14 in the third quarter, the Gamecocks never panicked.

"There was a long time left in the game, we knew we could move the ball," Mitchell said. "They weren't stopping us. We knew that if we kept playing like we were capable of playing we could keep putting points on the board."

South Carolina did just that, outscoring the Tigers 17-7 in the second half.

"We just kept playing, and our guys have done that all year," Spurrier said. "Our offensive kids thought we could move the ball, and the defense said, 'well if the offensive guys can move it and score, we can stop them sometime here.' We got some momentum there in the third and fourth quarters."

Meanwhile, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning had to concede that Spurrier got the best of the Tigers' defense on Saturday.

"I know there is a long, long line of defensive coordinators to get their fannies kicked by that guy over there," Koenning said. "I guess you can add one to the list."

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Gamecocks close game with a 17 unanswered points, win when Clemson kicker misses 39-yard field goal

Published on 11/26/06

The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — The ball was sailing precariously toward the left upright, but Dustin Fry turned his head and looked the other way.

Fry, a senior center for Clemson, was convinced Jad Dean's 39-yard field goal attempt was good. The game was going into overtime, and the No. 24 Tigers were going to beat South Carolina — again.

At least, that's what he thought.

"When I turned away, it looked good to me," Fry said. "I thought I heard our crowd going crazy."

The roar Fry heard came from Gamecocks fans, not Tigers faithful. Dean's kick hooked left with 13 seconds remaining, and South Carolina floated away from Death Valley with a 31-28 victory after a game that was crazy from beginning to end.

"I had no idea that he missed it," Fry said. "I thought it was money. It was a shock to me."

Losing to South Carolina was indeed a shock to Clemson's system. That's what happens when you've beaten a team four consecutive times and eight times in nine years.

But the Gamecocks, who seemingly did everything they could to give Clemson five straight wins in the series for the first time in 66 years, persevered enough to finally secure the signature win of coach Steve Spurrier's second season.

"There's a reason it hasn't been done in 66 years," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, who dropped to 6-2 against the Gamecocks. "It's hard to do."

Down 28-14 halfway through the third quarter, South Carolina scored 17 straight points to secure its first win over the Tigers since 2001. All but about 10,000 of the overflow crowd of 83,000 went home sick.

The sickest was probably Dean, a senior who'd struggled this season despite making eight straight previous kicks. Dean grew up a Clemson fan and had played a role in the last two victories over the Gamecocks.

Had Will Proctor not been sacked for a loss of 10 on the previous play, Dean's kick might have been good. Instead...

"Everything felt fine," he said. "When I hit it, I thought I hit it well enough to make it. ... I want to be in that situation. It's what you grow up dreaming about."

Until late Saturday afternoon, the Gamecocks could only dream about beating Clemson. Three years ago, it was 63-17. Two years ago, it was a 29-7 domination. And last season, South Carolina gave up a late lead in a 13-9 loss.

"Man, it feels great," said South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell, who threw for 268 yards on a 23-of-36 clip while keeping his cool despite three interceptions.

"What was it, seven in a row?"

Told it was only four, Mitchell responded: "Well, it felt like seven."

The emotions in the two locker rooms could not have been more disparate. Clemson's postgame scene was marked by tears, dejection and disbelief. Losing to the Gamecocks was hard enough to take, but the Tigers also have to live with three losses in four games after a 7-1 start and a No. 10 ranking.

Clemson had hoped to win Saturday and have a shot at securing 10 wins for the first time since 1990. The Tigers will now have to shoot for nine victories in a bowl, wherever it might be.

"This (stinks)," said junior C.J. Gaddis, who moved from cornerback to linebacker for Saturday's game. "We've just got to get better. I don't know if we just had some mental problems or whatever."

In the northwest corner of Death Valley, USC players let off a gleeful release after improving to 7-5 and securing a spot in a bowl, most likely the Liberty or Music City.

Two weeks before, the Gamecocks lost at Florida when a late field goal was blocked. This time, they benefited from good fortune after the Tigers steamed toward what would have been the game-winning touchdown.

"As you know," Spurrier said, "when you get a group of guys to play hard through the whole game, good things can happen."

For much of the game, bad things were happening to the Gamecocks. They were on the verge of going into halftime up 21-14, but the Tigers did it instead after defensive tackle Jock McKissic grabbed a Mitchell pass — batted by defensive end Gaines Adams — and ran 82 yards the other way for a touchdown with eight seconds left.

South Carolina was ready to even things out when defensive tackle Nathan Pepper picked off Proctor and barreled 33 yards the other way late in the third quarter. But Clemson tailback James Davis caught Pepper before he reached the end zone, forcing a fumble that rolled through the end zone to give Clemson possession again.

Clemson seemed destined to win as it marched down the field after taking over at its 20-yard line with 7:45 left, following a 35-yard field goal by Ryan Succop that gave the Gamecocks the three-point lead.

South Carolina made a stop after Clemson reached the 12, and then Jasper Brinkley sacked Proctor for a loss of 10 to set up Dean's kick with 18 seconds left.

After the Gamecocks called timeout, Dean made his approach and sent the kick up and over the line. Fry, a former Summerville High star, turned away to prepare for overtime that never came.

"It's the worst loss I've ever had as a Tiger," he said.

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"I know there is a long, long line of defensive coordinators to get their fannies kicked by that guy over there.  I guess you can add one to the list."    ~Vic Coenning (the Clemson Defensive Coordinator on Spurrier)