South Carolina had the ball, the momentum and "2001" blasting through the speakers as the fourth quarter began.
Then it was gone.
All of it vanished into the clear night in a matter of seconds on a play that left Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier bent over on the sideline, his head in his hands.
Defensive end Justin Trattou ended the Gamecocks' scoring drive and their hopes of upsetting the nation's No. 1 team Saturday when he picked off Stephen Garcia on the first play of the final quarter and returned it 54 yards.
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Florida quarterback Tim Tebow barreled in for a 1-yard touchdown four plays later and the top-ranked Gators went on to a 24-14 victory to keep a second consecutive national championship in their sights.
USC (6-5, 3-5 SEC) lost for the fourth time in five games and will have to knock off No. 24 Clemson on Thanksgiving weekend to avoid a complete collapse.
Florida (10-0, 8-0) extended its school-record win streak to 20 games and beat Spurrier for the fourth time in five tries since the ex-Gators coach arrived at USC.
Trattou's interception drained the life out of the 79,297 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium and a number of USC's players.
Trailing 17-14 and facing a third-and-3 from the Florida 22-yard line, Spurrier, who took over the play-calling from his son Steve Spurrier Jr., huddled with Garcia on the sideline during the fourth quarter changeover and discussed the play.
It was supposed to be a slant to Jason Barnes on the right side of the field. And as the Gators lined up, Spurrier saw they were in the coverage he expected.
But Garcia saw something else, saying he thought the Gators had "inside leverage" on Barnes. So the right-hander looked backside to an unsuspecting Moe Brown, who had the ball bounce off him into the hands of Trattou.
As Trattou raced past the USC sideline, Spurrier stared in disbelief at the headset and playsheet at his feet.
"We were in position there late in the third quarter maybe to tie it up," Spurrier said. "And obviously, that one play seemed to doom us."
"Garcia saw a read I didn't see. I wasn't expecting it," Brown said. "I saw it at the last second, just didn't make a play on it."
After Trattou returned the pick to the Gamecocks' 26, Tebow hit Brandon James for 11 yards. After two runs by Jeff Demps, Tebow went in to put the Gators up 10 with 13:25 left. It was Tebow's 53rd career touchdown, tying LSU's Kevin Faulk as the SEC all-time leader.
The Gators smelled blood in the water after the Garcia pick. With former USC and current Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong dialing up blitz after blitz, the Gators sacked Garcia four times and never allowed the Gamecocks to cross midfield again.
USC's final three possessions produced minus-16 yards and one first down.
"That play changed the entire outcome of the game," Garcia said. "It was very, very hard for the team to regroup after that."
Florida coach Urban Meyer agreed.
"It was huge. The whole field was tilting (in USC's favor)," Meyer said. "You felt it in the stadium. And then that play by Trattou will go down in history as one of the great plays."
Weslye Saunders, whose second-quarter touchdown reception pulled USC to within 3 points, said of the interception: "You try to keep your head up, but my heart dropped when I saw the guy get the pick."
After Florida scored on each of its first three possessions, the Gamecocks' defense clamped down. USC forced two unsuccessful Caleb Sturgis field goal attempts - from 52 and 54 yards - and three punts on the Gators' next five drives.
USC held Florida to 339 yards, nearly 100 below the Gators' average.
USC sacked Tebow twice and harassed him into several poor throws. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner completed 14-of-25 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown - a 68-yard strike to roommate Riley Cooper on the Gators' first drive.
But USC hung around and had a shot in the fourth quarter, at least for the start of it.
The Gamecocks fell to 0-13 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 or 2 in the AP poll, although this one almost got real interesting.
"I felt like we could've pulled off the upset," USC tailback Brian Maddox said. "They were tired. I saw it in their faces. We all saw it, everybody on offense. But they played good, and they managed to get us."
Spurrier seemed to enjoy calling plays again. The Gamecocks' game plan involved a mix of Maddox runs (18 for 82 yards) and a variety of short to intermediate passes.
But the game's pivotal play did not unfold as Spurrier designed it.
"I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if we'd just gone 17-all," Spurrier said. "That would have been fun to see what would've happened. But it didn't happen that way."