Ron Morris

Morris: Win is worthy of celebration for Spurrier

University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier watches the final seconds tick off the clock against Clemson University in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. South Carolina won 34-17.
University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier watches the final seconds tick off the clock against Clemson University in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. South Carolina won 34-17.

His postgame handshake with Dabo Swinney complete, Steve Spurrier headed toward the northeast end zone for the traditional playing of the South Carolina alma mater when he was intercepted by a bucket of water.

Spurrier does not like Gatorade baths. Not after these kinds of wins. He thinks they should be reserved for championships, and none of his USC teams has won one in his five seasons here.

So when USC players Moe Brown, Garrett Anderson and DeVonte Holloman sneaked up behind Spurrier and dumped a bucket of water on his back, Spurrier wheeled toward Brown, hugged him and got defensive. Then he quickly corrected himself.

"It's OK," he told Brown. "We're state champions."

Indeed. USC staked a claim Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium to a state championship that has been elusive over the past decade. Gamecock fans were able to celebrate a win over Clemson for only the third time in the past 13.

USC found rarefied air in this celebration. The Gamecocks pasted Clemson 34-17, the final score hardly an indication of USC's dominance. Not since a 26-point win at Clemson in 1994 has USC been in position to run out the clock. It has been that long since USC could punch in a late touchdown to add salt to Clemson's wounds, as it did with 2:40 remaining.

"We just wanted to keep our foot on the gas pedal and just run it into the ground because it feels great to win, and to win big and to be in control of the game," said Tori Gurley, who was on the receiving end of a 14-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. "So when I saw triple zeroes on the clock, it just showed that the hard work paid off."

In addition to capturing the state championship, USC salvaged its season. It now approaches a bowl game with a different mind-set at 7-5 than it would have at 6-6.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia declared following USC's loss to Florida that the game against Clemson was a "must win." He did not back down from that claim following the win.

"It was huge for us," Garcia said, "carrying the momentum going into the bowl game to try to get a win right there then during the offseason, it's just huge for the team's morale and motivation. It was a huge win for us."

USC was plagued all season by an inability to play four quality quarters. It waited until the 12th game of the season to put it all together. Aside from an inane decision to boot the ball to Clemson superstar C.J. Spiller on the opening kickoff, USC did most everything right.

Spiller returned the kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, and it appeared this game was headed the way most have in this lopsided series. But that was pretty much all USC heard from Spiller the remainder of the game. He returned another kickoff for 14 yards, one punt for 2 yards, caught three passes for 19 yards and carried the ball nine times for 18 yards.

USC's defense was that outstanding, limiting Clemson to 14 first downs and 260 yards, half of those first downs and 122 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter when the outcome had been decided.

On offense, USC finally realized it needed to run the ball to win. It did so a whopping 58 times to the tune of 223 yards.

Emphasizing the running game is a novel concept to Spurrier-coached teams. You have to go back to Florida's 1998 Citrus Bowl victory against Penn State to find a game in which one of his teams ran the ball more than 58 times. Heck, USC had not rushed the ball more in one game since it had 59 carries in a victory against Mississippi State in 2002.

"We had the right formula: a whole bunch of runs, don't get behind," Spurrier said.

The formula was not particularly exciting, although at times Kenny Miles did his best Spiller impersonation by rushing for 114 yards, and Stephon Gilmore did his best Darren McFadden impersonation by running the Wildcat formation on a 60-yard touchdown drive.

To USC fans, even a simple 1-yard touchdown run by Brian Maddox in the first quarter was exciting on this afternoon.

"It feels great," Maddox said. "It feels great."

Tight end Weslye Saunders and tackle Jarriel King together carried the Hardee's traveling trophy into the tunnel and locker room following the game. Saunders said the trophy was heavier than he thought it would be, but there was no denying its significance to the USC program and its fans.

The trophy represented the state championship, one for which Spurrier was willing to accept a celebratory bath to keep in Columbia this year.

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