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Gamecocks survive Border War

Offense disappears after half, defense prevents late disaster

Published on 10/14/07
BY TRAVIS HANEY
The Post and Courier

No. 7 South Carolina 21, North Carolina 15

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — No one's going to accuse Steve Spurrier of running up the score around here this time.

Up 18 at the half, Spurrier and No. 7 South Carolina were left heaving a sigh of relief by the end of a nail-biting 21-15 victory Saturday against a stubborn North Carolina team in front of 61,000 fans at Kenan Stadium.

"We held on somehow," Spurrier said. "It was a sad second half for South Carolina."

North Carolina fans still hold ire for Spurrier after his rather infamous 41-0 victory here in 1989 with Duke. The team celebrated the ACC title-clinching win by posing for photos under the scoreboard.

"I didn't want to lose up here," said Spurrier, whose first college head coaching job came eight miles up the road in Durham. "I did it for the Dookies and the South Carolina people. We're all happy. I felt like I was coaching for both of them today."

Playing like recent Duke teams, it turns out, nearly sent the Gamecocks (6-1) to their doom.

A full-on choke — one that's befallen many top-10 teams this year — almost became complete when UNC (2-5) had two throws from the 31-yard line to win the game.

The first launch by redshirt freshman T.J. Yates landed in a pile in the end zone, but wasn't caught by anyone.

The second made it to the 1-yard line, where, of all people, receiver Kenny McKinley and tight end Jared Cook sent the ball gingerly it to the ground.

Game over. The Gamecocks could exhale. But not necessarily feel good about moving into bowl eligibility with win No. 6.

Defensive end Eric Norwood likened the end result to a tie. Safety Emanuel Cook, who led the team with nine tackles and had two interceptions, didn't even think that much of the outcome.

"We're kind of down," Cook said. "It don't really feel like a win because we let them back in it."

The so-called Border War appeared as if it would never materialize through 30 minutes. USC was dominant, the sort of team that merited a No. 7 ranking.

Behind quarterback Chris Smelley's three touchdowns passes to three different receivers, the Gamecocks were decisive 21-3 leaders at intermission.

But, alas, they play four quarters in football.

"North Carolina kicked our tails in the second half," Spurrier said.

The typically aggressive Head Ball Coach admitted to getting unadventurous early in the second half, trying to play ball control offense and let the USC defense hold onto the lead.

It didn't work. Not well, anyway.

"I'm responsible for that putrid offense," Spurrier said. "We got to where we were ahead 21-3 and the defense was playing well, so I'm calling that conservative run, run crap. Then we tried to throw it, and we couldn't hit anything, either."

In the second half, USC was shut out and outgained 286-62 in total yardage.

"We just couldn't get anything going," said Smelley, who still moved to 4-0 as a starter. "I don't know who to blame or what to blame."

The Gamecocks finished 1-for-12 on third-down conversions, including 0-for-6 in the second half.

"It's not like our offense," Jared Cook said. "That's not (South) Carolina football."

That sputtering and some North Carolina continuity led to an ending nothing short of Halloween come early for USC.

"It was very scary, man," Emanuel Cook said. "I couldn't believe it myself."

When UNC freshman receiver Greg Little dove into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, it cut USC's lead to 21-9. A botched extra point kept the score there.

With a little less than four minutes to go, Spurrier told the defense everything was OK, instructing the unit to get a hold to seal the game.

Instead, the Gamecocks were assailed with a four-play, 62-yard drive that ended with Yates backing into the end zone to make it 21-15. It took just 45 seconds.

An onside kick attempt fortuitously rolled out of bounds to give USC the ball on the UNC 38.

The Gamecocks got to the 31, where Ryan Succop missed a field goal that could have put the game away. The kick hit the right upright squarely and fell straight to the ground.

"North Carolina kicked our tails in the second half."  ~Steve Spurrier