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Rocky Stopped in OT

Volunteers overcome Gamecocks' miraculous rally

Published on 10/28/07
The Post and Courier

KNOXVILLE, TENN. — If you need an illustration of what a wacky year it's been in the Southeastern Conference, reference Saturday night's events here.

South Carolina clawed back from a three-touchdown halftime deficit before bowing to Tennessee 27-24 in overtime in front of 105,962 fans at raucous Neyland Stadium.

"We just played good enough to lose," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "We had our chances, but we weren't good enough to win it."

South Carolina junior Ryan Succop missed a 40-yard field goal wide right that would've sent the game into a second overtime period.

Tennessee true freshman kicker Daniel Lincoln's preceding 27-yarder turned out to be the game-winner.

Georgia's win earlier in the day against Florida had put control of the SEC East in the winner's hands. Tennessee claimed it. Barely.

The Volunteers (5-3, 3-2) finished with 97 second-half and overtime yards to USC's 346 second-half yards.

For the second straight trip to Knoxville, it appeared South Carolina would win on a 49-yard field goal. Josh Brown hit one in 2005, the first time USC had ever won here.

Succop split the uprights with 90 seconds to play Saturday night. He thought at the time it would win the game.

"Yeah, to be honest with you, I did," Succop said. "It was kind of ironic. ... They were both 49-yarders. I thought it was going to be the same."

But the Volunteers, who could get nothing going on offense in the second half, came alive in the final minute.

LaMarcus Coker reversed field on the ensuing kickoff for a 37-yard return that got Tennessee near midfield. Twenty-two yards later, Lincoln hit a 48-yarder to send the game into overtime.

It was the first overtime game in Spurrier's three years at USC. It didn't last long.

After Lincoln's short field goal, the Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3) sputtered on their first three downs before forcing Succop to the long, ill-fated attempt.

For a half, South Carolina wasn't even thinking about winning. Just scoring a touchdown.

The touchdown-less streak had reached eight quarters — the longest for Spurrier since his first year at Duke in 1987.

Enter maligned senior QB Blake Mitchell.

Taking over for wobbly performing starter Chris Smelley, Mitchell engineered four scoring drives, including three for touchdowns.

The offense came to life for 501 total yards. Mitchell was 31-for-45 for 290 yards and a score.

"It's disappointing," Mitchell said of the loss. "We were down and fought back and came up a little short."

With USC floundering early, as it did last week in the Vanderbilt loss, UT held a comfortable 21-0 lead with 4:39 remaining in the first half after Erik Ainge found Josh Briscoe for a 5-yard score. It was one of few highlights for the rattled Ainge on the night.

The senior finished 25-for-44 for 212 yards, with the touchdown and an interception.

The Gamecocks trailed 17-0 last week against Vanderbilt, but never showed signs of life in the 17-6 loss.

It took a little more than two quarters for USC to find its fire offensively Saturday.

After failing on three plays from the 4-yard line on the first possession of the second half, Mitchell capped off a 39-yard drive with a 1-yard TD sneak. The score cut UT's lead to 21-7.

Spurrier intended to let Smelley "go the distance" after naming him the starter Thursday. But the youngster lasted just three possessions, two of which resulted in turnovers that led to UT TDs.

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