South Carolina’s maligned defense and special teams carried the offense for 60 minutes in The Swamp on Saturday, and then the Gamecocks carried quarterback Dylan Thompson off the field after overtime.
South Carolina beat Florida 23-20, stopping a four-game SEC slide, saving Steve Spurrier from the worst conference record of his career and posting perhaps the unlikeliest outcome in an unlikely season.
“I guess I’m getting a little old when you start feeling sorry for the other coach, but I do feel for Coach (Will) Muschamp,” Spurrier said. “He’s a good guy, and it appeared they had that game in pretty good shape.”
The Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC) trailed 17-10 with 3:31 remaining as Florida lined up to attempt a 32-yard field goal, but South Carolina’s Brison Williams blocked that kick and then Carlton Heard blocked a Gators punt with 39 seconds remaining to set up a 34-yard drive that tied the game at 17-17 when Mike Davis fell on his own fumble in the end zone with 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
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After Florida kicked a 35-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime, Thompson ran a zone read keeper 4 yards into the left corner of the end zone, heaving the ball into the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium seats before being covered up in a pile of his teammates.
“You have been putting in these long, long days, day in and day, almost win, almost win, almost win so many times, and finally we look like our backs are against the wall and we just keep competing and come back and just show up,” Thompson said. “The end of that game was just amazing.”
Prior to the back-to-back touchdowns to end regulation and start overtime, the South Carolina offense had gained 90 yards on its previous nine drives. The Gamecocks finished with 301 yards after posting four straight games with 500 or more, and the overall offensive performance was so anemic that Thompson was embarrassed when his teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders.
“Get me down, get me down,” he told them.
“I am just so proud of our team, and so thankful for this,” he said after the game. “I just ran the ball in from 4 yards out. It wasn’t a big deal, but what our team did was huge.”
Thompson, who had his wind knocked out while running the option on Davis’ touchdown in regulation, capped it by doing something his coaches had been hoping he’d do all game – keeping the ball on the zone read run.
“We kept thinking, ‘Why doesn’t he keep one every now and then?’ ” Spurrier said. “He finally got the chance to keep one.”
Thompson walked into the end zone without a Gator within 10 yards.
“They were getting more and more aggressive and typically around the goal line, that (defensive) end will worry about the running back getting in and not even look at the quarterback,” Thompson said. “He crashed down hard, and I figured I could run into the end zone from there.”
Thompson, who had minus-11 rushing yards on the day, finished 22-of-41 passing for 206 yards. Mike Davis led the Gamecocks with 56 yards rushing, and Pharoh Cooper was the top pass catcher despite being held to four catches for 40 yards.
The Gators were held to 278 yards, 161 of which was generated by freshman quarterback Treon Harris, who had 111 rushing yards and 60 passing yards. Spurrier promised a game ball to all the defensive starters, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and defensive line coach Deke Adams, he said.
“Really proud of those defensive guys,” Spurrier said. “They have been pushed around all year almost, people were running all over us. To stop them the way we did today was really impressive, really impressive. Best defensive game we’ve played all year.”
South Carolina’s second win in The Swamp (it improved to 24-8-3 overall against Florida and 2-13 in Gainesville) put the Gamecocks within one win of bowl eligibility. South Carolina plays South Alabama at home Saturday and then at Clemson on Nov. 29. Tigers freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson left a 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech with a left knee injury that appeared to be serious.
“I guess the Upstate team got beat today. Is that right?” Spurrier said. “(Watson) got hurt again? What was that final? That game, looks like we are in better shape than we were two weeks ago, right? But anything can happen as we all know.”
South Carolina proved that Saturday against the Gators, who lost for the sixth time in their last eight home games.