The game had long been decided Saturday night as the final seconds fell off the clock, but Steve Spurrier was coaching until time expired.
South Carolina’s sixth-year coach spent those last minutes orchestrating the celebration, tutoring his players on the proper way to hoist him onto their shoulders and carry him to midfield at The Swamp, site of so many of his previous triumphs.
His players, he knows, are new to this.
“We haven’t had many championships so we have to coach them up a little bit,” Spurrier said. “But we didn’t talk about it obviously until the game was over.”
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The No. 22 Gamecocks can be forgiven for getting carried away. They had long since put away No. 24 Florida, 36-14, and had moved on to enjoying their first SEC East title.
“Me and some of my buddies thought we could come in and move the ball on them, but we had no idea it was going to come down like that,” said senior captain Spencer Lanning, who hit field goals of 49, 47 and 41 yards. “It’s just a credit to coach Spurrier and all our coaches for getting us ready.”
And, of course, to Marcus Lattimore. The freshman tailback gained a career-high 212 yards and had three touchdowns on a school-record 40 carries, allowing the Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3 SEC) to play a punishing game of keepaway with the No. 24 Gators.
Spurrier’s best bit of coaching this week and was not at the chalkboard.
“I saw Marcus Monday or Tuesday of this week and I said, ‘Have you got about 40 carries in you this weekend?’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir,’” Spurrier said. “That was the plan, and that’s how we beat them, running Marcus Lattimore and playing great defense.”
“I knew he was serious,” Lattimore said. “When he says something, he means it.”
South Carolina kept the ball for 40 minutes and 46 seconds and allowed Florida 226 yards and seven offensive points. The Gators had three first downs and 67 yards through first three quarters.
“The defense was sensational,” Spurrier said, “the best we have been by far.”
A mostly disgusted crowd of 90,885 in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium watched as South Carolina won for the first time in 13 tries in Gainesville, Fla. The Gamecocks beat the Gators for the second time since 1939.
The division title is the second championship for South Carolina, joining the 1969 ACC championship. Saturday’s victory marked the first time the Gamecocks have beaten the Gators, Tennessee and Georgia in the same season, not to mention then-No. 1 Alabama.
“That doesn’t sound possible does it?” Spurrier asked. “But that’s what happened this year. We won’t mention we lost to some other people.”
The Gamecocks will face Auburn on Dec. 4 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the SEC championship game. The Tigers beat the Gamecocks 35-27 in Auburn on Sept. 25.
“We haven’t had a whole bunch of championships so a division one is pretty good,” Spurrier said. “We will celebrate a little more than they do down here at Florida for the division that’s for sure.”
Florida would have advanced to the title game with a win but did not look championship worthy at all. The Gators (6-4, 4-4 SEC) scored 14 seconds into the game on a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre DeBose but never threatened again while the game was in doubt. The Gators were 2-of-14 on third downs.
After South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia scored on an 8-yard run with 13:35 left in the fourth quarter to put the Gamecocks ahead 29-7, the Gators “started hanging their heads,” Lattimore said. From there, it was a matter of soaking it in.
Garrett Chisolm, Kyle Nunn and Cedrick Snead carried Spurrier to midfield and then all the Gamecocks ran to the South Carolina section in the stands. The team flew home after the game to an early morning celebration in Williams-Brice Stadium with fans.
“Going to Atlanta, that’s what we’ve been talking about since we first got recruited here,” Garcia said. “The coaches said, ‘We’re going to play in Atlanta one day.’ It took four years, but we’re finally here.”
FL - Andre Debose 99 yd KO return (PAT good)
USC - Spencer Lanning 49-yd FG
USC - Marcus Lattimore 7-yd TD run (PAT failed)
USC - Spencer Lanning 47-yd FG
USC - Spencer Lanning 41-yd FG
USC - Marcus Lattimore 21-yd TD run (PAT good)
USC - Stephen Garcia 10-yd TD run (PAT good)
FL - Chris Rainey 26-yd TD catch (PAT good)
USC - Marcus Lattimore 7-yd TD run (PAT good)
|Time of Possession||31:46||28:14|
RUSHING: South Carolina, Lattimore 40-212, Garcia 12-28, Team 1-0, Maddox 1-(minus 1). Florida, Rainey 5-32, Reed 8-12, Burton 1-1, Moody 1-1, Demps 2-(minus 1), Brantley 3-(minus 10).
PASSING: South Carolina, Garcia 15-22-0-156. Florida, Brantley 16-31-1-130, Reed 3-7-0-46, Burton 1-1-0-15.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, A.Jeffery 6-53, Gurley 3-27, Lattimore 2-31, D..Moore 2-27, A.Sanders 1-13, Cunningham 1-5. Florida, Rainey 4-32, Hines 3-38, Hammond 3-37, Burton 3-29, Moore 2-17, Debose 2-13, Thompson 1-20, Reed 1-15, Brantley 1-(minus 10).