South Carolina fans had to hold their breath most of Saturday, but in the end it was worth it.
The No. 11 Gamecocks first sweated out a 43-38 Auburn win over Georgia that came down to a miracle fourth-and-18 touchdown heave, and then they allowed reeling Florida to hang around long enough to make their own eventual 19-14 victory more stressful than it should have been.
South Carolina (8-2 overall, 6-2 SEC) now trails No. 9 Missouri by one game in the SEC East. The Gamecocks own the tiebreaker with the Tigers thanks to their 27-24 double overtime win over Missouri on Oct. 26 so if the Tigers to lose one game, South Carolina will go to Atlanta on Dec. 7 for the SEC championship game.
Beating Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) is up to Ole Miss or Texas A&M. If either the Rebels (7-3, 3-3 SEC) or the 10th-ranked Aggies (8-2, 4-2 SEC) do it, South Carolina will win its second SEC East title in four years.
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The Gators came in a 13.5-point underdog, losers of four straight and on their third quarterback of the season but led until South Carolina’s Elliott Fry hit a 22-yard field goal with 6:43 left in the game to give the Gamecocks a 16-14 edge.
South Carolina won its school record 16th straight home game, extending the nation’s longest active streak, and completed its third straight six-win SEC season, something it had never done until 2011.
Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw was shaky most of the night, completing 14-of-28 passes for 213 yards, but made history of his own, winning his 24th career start to tie Todd Ellis’ school record.
For most of Saturday afternoon, Gamecock fans were more concerned with what was happening in Auburn, Ala., where the Tigers blew a big lead and then won on a 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown on fourth-and-18. The importance of that game resulted in an odd scene Saturday night with 3:03 left in the third quarter in Williams-Brice Stadium.
As the Gamecocks kickoff team waited on the field for a television timeout to end, the video board at Williams-Brice showed the final seconds of the Georgia game. When the action on the screen switched back to South Carolina’s game, the crowd booed.
The Gators entered the game last in the SEC in yardage and things seemed to get worse before the game when Florida announced starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, who began the season as a backup but took over the job when Jeff Driskel suffered a broken leg, wouldn’t be able to play due to a shoulder injury. In Murphy’s place, the Gators inserted freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, who had never taken a collegiate snap, much less thrown a pass.
Desperation worked well for the Gators in the first half as Mornhinweg served as a decoy as much as a quarterback, often splitting out from behind center to a wide receiver position so Florida could snap the ball directly to a running back. Most often, that running back was Kelvin Taylor, who had a 20-yard touchdown run and then a 29-yard touchdown run in the first half to help Florida to a 14-6 halftime lead.
Mornhinweg threw only two passes in the first half, completing both of them for a combined 8 yards. The Gators ran for 169 yards in the first half.
The Gamecocks only scoring in the first two quarters came from place-kicker Elliott Fry, who hit from 25 yards and 45 yards and missed from 38 yards in the first half.
South Carolina pulled within one point in the third quarter when Shaw found Bruce Ellington for a 32-yard touchdown on fourth-and-three.
The Gators lost their fifth straight for the first time since 1979. Williams-Brice: USC vs. Florida