It’s been 16 years since Erik Kimrey threw his most famous pass, a moment that lives on in Gamecock lore as its own proper noun: The Fade.
Kimrey relieved an injured Phil Petty at quarterback in the fourth quarter and threw one pass, a 25-yard touchdown on fourth down to Jermale Kelly that helped USC to a 23-19 win over No. 25 Mississippi State at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The victory on Sept. 23, 2000, was the first of seven-straight over the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks’ opponent Saturday in Starkville, Miss.
Kimrey remembers the game and the moment with perspective and context. The Gamecocks, in coach Lou Holtz’s second season, had snapped a 21-game losing streak with three straight wins to start the 2000 season. One of those was a 21-10 victory over No. 9 Georgia in which quarterback Quincy Carter was intercepted five times.
“Our fans were kind of wondering if we were for real,” said Kimrey, now the head football coach at Hammond School in Columbia.
USC scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the win. Petty finished with 305 yards passing and a touchdown, with Kelly turning nine receptions into 123 yards.
“Jermale was one of the best receivers in the history of the school. He’s always remembered by that one play,” Kimrey said. “And what people also forget is that Phil had his best game of his career. When people think about that game they often think about me, but really we had a great receiver in Jermale Kelly and Phil Petty, who did a great job being our quarterback for a couple years, having a career day.”
The 2000 and 2001 seasons would prove to be the high-water marks of the Holtz era, both culminating in Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State.
Kimrey starred at Dutch Fork High and has made his mark on the state’s football record books with eight state titles over the past 10 years at Hammond. He remembered his famous pass in the garnet and black this week:
Q: What do you remember about the sequence of events that led to you entering the game?
A: “We trailed the entire game. We were down by six points with a little over four minutes to go. They had been playing press man, Cover 0 and bringing the house. I remember Phil on third and 10 scrambling and hitting James Adkisson down the right sideline, setting it up on the 25. He threw three straight incompletions because of the pressure. On that third and 10 he rolled to the right. They hit him and he fell awkwardly on his ankle. I remember him kind of getting up and falling down. The first thing in my head was, ‘Phil, get up, get up.’ Then I realized when he went back down I should probably go get my helmet because I knew I’d probably be the one to come in. With that late in the game, kicking a field goal didn’t make a whole sense. So with fourth and 10, they asked me to go in.”
Q: What was said in those conversations in the moment with coaches?
A: “The first one was with Todd Fitch, our receivers coach. (Quarterbacks coach) Skip Holtz was in the box. Todd just came up and said, ‘Erik, what do you like?’ I went into coach mode. When I was in high school I called all the plays at the line of scrimmage. I had seen they were in press man and bringing the house. I just felt like throwing a fade up would be the best call. I wasn’t thinking about what I could do or how I felt. I was just thinking about what was appropriate for that situation. So I said, ‘Coach let’s just throw 18.’ Eighteen is what we called our fade. So then Coach Holtz came up to me and asked the same thing. I said, ‘Coach let’s just throw 18.’ They made a couple adjustments on the routes. The inside two guys usually run little quick outs, but he ran them vertical. That was it. That was all the time we had.
Q: And the play itself?
A: I went out and surveyed the defense. The ball was on the right hash. I saw Adkisson against Fred Smoot, who was an NFL-caliber player, had a long career in the NFL, and Jermale, who was our best receiver, against their weaker corner. It was to the field so I knew it would be a longer throw. I knew I didn’t have any time to drop. I caught the ball, didn’t have the laces. When I threw it, I had adrenaline running, I peeked out of the corner of my eye and saw Jermale was getting jammed up a little bit. So I put a little more air on it than I normally would to give him time to run under it. He made a fantastic catch and the rest is history.
Q: Are you OK with that being your USC legacy?
A: As a Carolina football player, sure. Of course that’s what people remember me for. I think I was kind of a coach behind the scenes. I tried to make the other players around me better. I was a limited athlete and a very average quarterback on the SEC level. I tried to contribute to the team where I could. That was my opportunity, my moment. I’ve always been called to be a coach and that’s what I do. I hope folks see me as a good football coach that happened to throw one pass one day.
Q: Is it a clip you still watch?
A: I haven’t watched it in a long time. My mom, the first year or two after it happened, would show everybody who walked into the house the clip. I think I showed it to my kids maybe a year or so (ago) and let them see it. My son is 5 years old now and he really enjoys watching the Gamecocks play. For him to see that his dad contributed a little bit is kind of cool.
Q: How did The Fade affect your life moving forward?
A: When I think back, it’s a big moment in my life. It probably changed the trajectory of my life a little bit. It gave me a little notoriety around town. Moving from last string quarterback to second string, developing a rapport with Skip Holtz, him hiring me as a graduate assistant, and I landed this job (at Hammond) and I’ve been here ever since. People still remember that moment and still come up to me to this day and tell me where they were when I threw The Fade. It’s cool, even though I wasn’t a great quarterback in the SEC. I was a good high school quarterback but I was a subpar college quarterback. To be remembered by something nice and positive is cool.
USC vs. Mississippi State
The Gamecocks have won seven straight against the Bulldogs.
Sept. 23, 2000: USC wins 23-19*
Sept. 20, 2001: USC wins 16-14
Oct. 5, 2002: USC wins 34-10*
Aug. 31, 2006: USC wins 15-0
Sept. 29, 2007: USC wins 38-21*
Oct. 15, 2011: USC wins 14-12
Nov. 2, 2013: USC wins 34-16*
*Game played at Williams-Brice Stadium