Looking at South Carolina's 6-0 record in winning the 1969 ACC championship, it's easy to overlook the fact that their first three wins easily could have been losses.
In the home opener vs. Duke, quarterback Tommy Suggs ran 48 yards to erase a Blue Devils lead, and Suggs and receiver Fred Zeigler powered a late scoring drive in the 27-20 victory.
A week later, vs. North Carolina, USC trailed 6-0 before two third-quarter touchdowns and a last-second interception by Dickie Harris sealed a 14-6 win.
And then there was the N.C. State game, in which the Gamecocks trailed 10-0 before scoring three touchdowns in 8:04 for a 21-16 triumph, their final ACC win by less than two touchdowns.
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"We were tied with (N.C. State) for the ACC lead, both undefeated," said Jim Mitchell, a second-team receiver and punt return specialist. "They were the team to beat, but they were beating us the whole game."
Until he and fellow sophomore Harris provided the sparks for USC. For Mitchell, it would be a season highlight - make that his lone highlight, he said.
"I had very little to do with that season," Mitchell, now a Columbia builder, said. "I backed up Fred most of the year, so I didn't have a lot of catches."
Just one amazing runback.
Harris' 45-yard kickoff return sparked USC's first scoring drive of the third quarter. Then the defense held, and Mitchell settled under a Wolfpack punt at his 28-yard line.
"That week, the coaches saw something in N.C. State's coverage," he said. "They had pursuit from the outside but didn't zone up the middle like they should. We put in a fake right like I was going wide, but it was a middle return - just for them."
The play unfolded as conceived. "I caught it, cut to the right and, sure enough, that hole was wide open in the middle," Mitchell said. "Then I veered to the right sideline and only had to dodge the kicker."
He laughed. "That was pretty easy to do."
Mitchell's 72-yard score put USC ahead for good, and his teammates piled atop him in the end zone.
His work done, Mitchell returned to the bench to watch Zeigler, whose four catches for 46 yards made him the ACC's career receiving leader at the time.
"That game established us as the team to beat in the ACC," Mitchell said. "And that was my big moment."
- Bob Gillespie