As they walked out of Williams-Brice Stadium following South Carolina's 34-17 win Saturday, USC tight end Weslye Saunders and tackle Jarriel King stopped in the southwest corner and held the Hardee's Trophy aloft and gave Gamecock fans a chance to snap pictures and soak in the moment.
Clemson (8-4) will be playing for a bigger, shinier trophy next week when the 15th-ranked Tigers face No. 7 Georgia Tech for the ACC championship in Tampa, Fla.
But USC (7-5) took away something more important than the hardware - salvation of a season following a rare win against its Upstate rival.
The Gamecocks rediscovered their running offense and overcame C.J. Spiller's NCAA record-setting touchdown return on the opening kickoff to win for the third time in the past 13 games against the Tigers.
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USC had dropped three in a row entering Saturday's game and was in danger of limping into its bowl game in the midst of another late-season skid. Instead, the Gamecocks are guaranteed a winning season and will take momentum - and likely more fans - to their bowl destination.
"I feel like we accomplished something. We could easily be down on ourselves after those three games. But now we did something," said Saunders, who had two short touchdown receptions. "A lot of people have been telling us all year, 'As long as you beat Clemson.' We just beat Clemson."
But do not expect Steve Spurrier to sell commemorative Clemson game balls on the Gamecock Club circuit in the spring, as he did three years ago following his only other win against the Tigers at USC.
"I think sometimes we celebrate too much when we beat 'em, to tell you the truth," Spurrier said. "I think when Clemson beats us, they don't celebrate wildly. But I think we overdid it three years ago, and I was probably guilty also."
The Tigers barely resembled the team that had won six in a row entering the game.
Clemson gave up 223 rushing yards, matched a season high with three turnovers and did little offensively until the fourth quarter. With USC doing its best to surround Spiller, the Tigers managed 48 rushing yards on 19 carries - the second time since 1980 Clemson has run for fewer than 100 yards against USC.
"It's been a long time since we've lost a game. That's a very sick feeling," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "And we had an opportunity to achieve one of our goals today, and we failed to do it."
Spiller also felt sick, battling a stomach ailment throughout the game. He looked healthy enough when given a mulligan when USC was offsides on the opening kickoff.
The Heisman Trophy candidate took the re-kick 88 yards for his seventh career kickoff return for a touchdown, an NCAA record.
But the Gamecocks recovered to hold Clemson to 138 yards over the first three quarters.
"He didn't score on us. They scored on special teams. They didn't score on the defense," senior linebacker Eric Norwood said. "We wanted to go out there and shut 'em out, and I think that's what we pretty much did for the majority of the game."
USC kept Spiller hemmed in the rest of the game, holding him to 18 yards on nine carries - a 2-yard average that was nearly 6 yards below his career average against the Gamecocks.
"We kept him caged up pretty good," USC assistant coach for defense Ellis Johnson said.
But there was no caging the Gamecocks' ground game. Spurrier called 58 run plays - the most in his five seasons at USC - and unveiled the "WildCock" formation with freshman cornerback Stephon Gilmore at quarterback.
The results were a 13-minute edge in time of possession and what USC quarterback Stephen Garcia called a "statement" in a rivalry that has been largely one-sided.
The Gamecocks gained much of their rushing yards up the middle on read-options by Garcia and runs by tailback Kenny Miles, who finished with 114 yards on 17 carries.
"I believe at one stretch towards the end of the game, we ran the same play maybe six, seven times. The first two or three times you're like, what in the world?" USC receiver Moe Brown said.
"But you see it keeps getting five yards, and by the fourth time it was kinda funny. Like, y'all aren't gonna stop this (expletive). So we kinda got a laugh out of that."
The Gamecocks and their fans figure to be laughing for a while.
When USC was struggling to win down the stretch, Spurrier gave his players 24 hours to mourn a loss. Saunders was asked whether there would be a similar time limit to celebrate the Clemson win.
Saunders smiled and said, "I think we're going to have to up that to 30 days."
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.