His coach, Lou Holtz, was doused with Gatorade before the last snap and a South Carolina cheerleader teared up as she watched the last seconds tick away. Between television interviews, Holtz and Simpson embraced at the 25-yard line, while several Gamecocks celebrated in the end zone with their band.
After two years of painful finishes, the Gamecocks finally know what it feels like to be bowl eligible after a dramatic 35-32 win against Arkansas.
The Razorbacks have a lot of work to do if they want to share the feeling.
South Carolina (6-3, 4-3 in Southeastern Conference) dealt a crushing blow to Arkansas' bowl hopes in front of 78,800 fans on Senior Day in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Razorbacks (3-5, 1-4) committed three second-half turnovers that led to 14 South Carolina points and receiver Troy Williamson notched the game-winning touchdown with 1:09 remaining.
Arkansas dropped its fourth consecutive game, equaling the longest losing streak in coach Houston Nutt's tenure (2000). The Hogs must win their final three games -- against Ole Miss, at Mississippi State and against LSU in Little Rock -- to become bowl eligible for the seventh straight season.
"I don't remember hurting this bad in a long, long time," Nutt said. "I felt like we flat-out gave one away today. Even the mistakes we made, I thought we came back and put ourselves in position to win the game and just couldn't close it out.
"That one hurts, really hurts."
Arkansas thought it had reasons to celebrate after 15 fourth-quarter points erased a 28-17 deficit. Marcus Monk hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Matt Jones and De'Arrius Howard added the go-ahead 7-yard score with 3:24 left.
But South Carolina's Syvelle Newton, who replaced injured starter Dondrial Pinkins (bruised shoulder) in the second half, cooly guided the Gamecocks on an 8-play, 62-yard scoring drive. The fleet-footed sophomore eluded blitzes, completed 4 of 6 passes for 57 yards and rushed for 5 more to lead South Carolina into the end zone.
Newton saw cornerback Matterral Richardson coming on a corner blitz on the last play, so he dumped the ball to Williamson in the flat. The junior shook Arkansas safety Vickiel Vaughn as he tried to make a tackle and sprinted for a 14-yard score.
Williamson caught 7 passes for 73 yards. Newton, who rushed for 49 yards, completed 11 of 16 passes for 98 yards and the touchdown.
"They just made an unbelievable drive," said Arkansas defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "(Newton) hit every pass perfect."
With the ball at its 37, Arkansas had a last gasp. Jones, who had been hampered by groin and hamstring injuries, sprinted for 17 of his 111 rushing yards on the Razorbacks' first play. But the senior tossed an ill-advised pass into South Carolina's zone coverage, which Simpson snagged at the Gamecocks' 2 to seal the game.
Simpson also scooped up a Peyton Hillis fumble, returning it 57 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.
"It hurts a whole lot," Hillis said. "For the coaches, I feel really bad about it. The team, they had so much riding on this game. The seniors. They really want to make it to a bowl. Even though a bowl is not out of sight yet, it's going to be hard to bounce back from this one."
The win helped South Carolina snap the six-win, bowl-eligibility curse that tormented the Gamecocks the past two seasons. South Carolina reached the five-win mark the past two years, but were 0-9 after that.
"This is big for the program and for the future," Holtz said. "Our goal is to win a championship. We are getting closer and closer. I see the culture changing. It's fun to be around."
Said center John Strickland: "The wait is over here after a two-year drought."
But it wasn't easy for the Gamecocks, which opened with a comedy of errors that almost cost them.
Pinkins' first pass was intercepted by Vaughn and returned 52 yards for a touchdown. South Carolina tight end Brian Brownlee signaled for a fair catch on the short ensuing kickoff, but muffed the ball. It was recovered by Arkansas cornerback Michael Grant, but one official blew an inadvertent whistle, signaling the play dead.
"For them to call something like an inadvertent whistle, I don't understand that – especially in a game of this caliber," said Arkansas tailback DeCori Birmingham. "We actually tried to use that for some momentum. We felt like it was going to be us versus South Carolina and the officials."
South Carolina settled in after that, putting together 78- and 73-yard scoring drives against a struggling Arkansas defense. Pinkins scored the Gamecocks' first touchdown on a 2-yard run and running back Daccus Turman plunged in from 3 yards on the next possession to knot the game at 14-all.
Jones rallied the Hogs, leading them on a 17-play, 65-yard drive that chewed up 7 minutes, 32 seconds off the clock and ended with a 32-yard Chris Balseiro field goal. It was Arkansas' first field goal since the Sept. 11 Texas game and gave the Hogs a 17-14 halftime lead.
Jones completed 12 of 24 passes for 138 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Howard gained 91 yards for a ground attack that churned out 247 yards on 45 attempts. Monk led Arkansas with 7 catches for 95 yards.
But it wasn't enough to snap a winless streak that has stretched to 43 days.
"It hurts to see (the Gamecocks) celebrating because we knew that was going to be us," Huckeba said. "We talked about it. We dreamed about it.
"We wanted to celebrate. We wanted to feel the taste of a win. That's what hurts so bad. When you want that and you long for it and you don't get it."
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