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No. 4 on the floor: USC upsets Ole Miss

South Carolina sophomore cornerback No. 3 Akeem Auguste and South Carolina senior defensive tackle No. 95 Nathan Pepper celebrate the Gamecocks win during the Gamecocks games against Ole Miss, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Thursday, September 24, 2009.
South Carolina sophomore cornerback No. 3 Akeem Auguste and South Carolina senior defensive tackle No. 95 Nathan Pepper celebrate the Gamecocks win during the Gamecocks games against Ole Miss, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Thursday, September 24, 2009. The State Media Company

The 28-year wait is over: South Carolina finally bagged its big-game trophy.

The Gamecocks brought down No. 4 Mississippi's high-flying offense Thursday and held on for a 16-10 victory that was the biggest home win in the program's 116-year history.

USC strong safety Darian Stewart broke up Jevan Snead's fourth-down pass with 1:20 remaining to snuff out the Rebels' comeback hopes. After two Stephen Garcia kneel-downs, the USC quarterback led a charge toward the student section at Williams-Brice Stadium that was three decades in the making.

USC (3-1, 1-1 SEC) knocked off a top-5 team for the first time since a 31-13 victory at No. 3 North Carolina in 1981 - a drought that lasted through six head coaches. The Gamecocks were 1-31 against top-5 opponents, and had never beaten a team ranked higher than No. 6 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Mississippi (2-1, 0-1 SEC), which entered with its highest ranking since 1970, lost for the first time in nine games to snap the nation's second-longest win streak.

"This is a defining moment. We're coming," said Stewart, who questioned the Rebels' lofty ranking.

"To us, we felt like they didn't play anybody. Yeah, they had Memphis and some green-and-yellow team (Southeastern Louisiana)," Stewart added. "They're going up against their first SEC team, we just wanted to step up and show them what a real SEC defense looked like."

Here's what it looked like: constant pressure on Snead from the Gamecocks' front four, another big night from linebacker Eric Norwood, and blanket coverage in the secondary. All this from a defense that entered the game with six regulars battling injuries.

The Gamecocks allowed Mississippi 248 total yards, its lowest total in more than two years, and held them to 38.5 points below their season average.

"Our defense was sensational," said USC coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 4-0 against Ole Miss. "We relied on our defense to win the game, simple as that."

Leading 16-3 midway through the third quarter, USC unsuccessfully tried to milk the clock. The Gamecocks went three-plays-and-out on their next five offensive series, running 15 plays for 17 yards during that span.

The USC defense cracked once - allowing a 45-yard touchdown pass from Snead to Markeith Summers that pulled the Rebels to 16-10 with 9:47 remaining.

With the passing game out of whack, Mississippi turned to all-purpose back Dexter McCluster in the fourth quarter. McCluster, who had four carries in the first three quarters, ran 11 times for 68 yards in the final quarter.

But when they tried a reverse pass with McCluster on its last drive, Stewart dropped him for a 4-yard loss after the Gamecocks sniffed it out. Cliff Matthews sacked Snead on third down, leaving Mississippi a fourth-and-14 with 1:26 left.

Following a Mississippi timeout, the Rebels were flagged for an illegal substitution, making it fourth-and-19 from their 41-yard line. Snead, the projected first-round NFL quarterback, looked for Shay Hodge, but Stewart stepped in front and nearly intercepted the pass.

Stewart said he was trying to "make a play - either pick it or knock it down and get off the field."

The Gamecocks scored the game's first touchdown midway through the third quarter. Garcia hit fullback Patrick DiMarco for a 2-yard score on a play-action pass that put USC up 16-3 with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter.

USC's ailing defense put a hurting on the Rebels' offense, and might have put Snead's Heisman hopes on life-support.

The right-hander from Texas completed 7 of 21 passes for a career-low 107 yards, and was sacked four times.

"They had a lot of hype, and they deserved it," said Norwood, who had two of the sacks. "But we weren't going to put them on a pedestal."

"We really hurt ourselves. We did that all through the game," Snead said. "When you're playing a good team, you can't be playing yourself, too."

Ole Miss entered with the nation's third-highest scoring offense at 48.5 points a game, and left looking like a confused and frustrated unit.

USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said Mississippi appeared to get frustrated in the first half, when the Gamecocks ran 41 plays to Mississippi's 23 and held an 8 1/2-minute edge in time of possession.

"Offense held the ball so long, (the Rebels) got impatient with their game plan, maybe," Johnson said.

USC led 6-3 at halftime following a pair of field goals from Spencer Lanning, who hit from 26 and 20 yards.

Playing with bruised ribs for more than half the game, Garcia completed 16 of 34 passes for 220 yards, more than doubling Snead's totals in completions and yardage.

Garcia said he would be sore today, but the Gamecocks have a long weekend to enjoy the historic win.

Wednesday night at the team hotel, senior receiver and captain Moe Brown told teammates that coming close against the nation's best was not good enough.

"Fellas, we've been close a bunch of times against these ranked teams," Spurrier recalled Brown saying. "Let's go finish."

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