Gamecock Rally Falls Short

It was almost a thing of beauty. The Gamecocks had rallied from a 16-3 deficit and had just trimmed the lead to two early in the fourth quarter. However, Florida State moved the ball down the field and scored a late touchdown to seal a 26-17 win and end the Gamecock season in heart break.

The South Carolina defense played a superb game. Put in difficult position time and time again, the defense held strong.

Until the final drive.

Florida State went 63 yards on 14 plays, converting four third downs to put an end on what would have been a thrilling Gamecock comeback, winning 26-17 in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"We didn't give ourselves much of a chance to win the game with penalties and turnovers and stuff," head coach Steve Spurrier said following the game. "Give Florida State credit - they played really well. I think they only had the reverse interception."

After Seminole kicker Dustin Hopkins drilled a 45-yard field goal to give Florida State a 19-10 lead with just nine seconds remaining in the third, the Gamecocks pulled out the Stephon Gilmore package to change the pace up. After a pair of three yard runs by Kenny Miles and Gilmore, Gilmore threw one up that Jeffery went over Florida State defensive back Greg Reid to pull it down for a 28-yard gain. After a personal foul on Florida State on the ensuing play and a Miles 10-yard gain, Brian Maddox went up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown to pull the Gamecocks to within to at 19-17.

As had been the case all night, Florida State had an answer. Back-up quarterback EJ Manuel found running back Chris Thompson for 11 yards for a third down conversion, then hit Bert Reed for 17 yards on the next play. A 1-yard run by Thompson converted the second third down of the drive, and Manuel hit Reed again for another third down conversion to move the ball inside the 10. Manuel finished it off on the fourth third down conversion of the drive, hitting Taiwan Easterling coming across the end zone to give the Seminoles the 26-17 lead that all but ended any hopes of a Gamecock comeback.

"I was disappointed in the last two drives really," Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said. "I think we got tired, no question about that. They converted three (four) critical third downs - scrambled and he bought time, one he ran the ball and dumped it off."

The Gamecocks continuously shot themselves in the foot all night long. The Gamecocks turned the ball over five times and Florida State had three field goal drives on a combined 17 plays and 24 yards.

"We didn't have a terrible game on offense - just the turnovers is what killed us," Spurrier said. "We were moving the ball fairly decent - made 400 (414) yards."

The troubles of the Gamecock offense came early and often.

The Gamecocks won the toss and elected to receive. After a pair of screens to Lattimore and Jeffery netted four yards, Garcia scrambled and found a streaking Lattimore down the sidelines for a 53-yard gain all the way to the FSU 36. Three plays later Garcia found Lattimore again, who was drilled by Florida State's Greg Reid and fumbled for the first time in his career. Kendall Smith picked up the lose ball and rumbled 54 yards to the Gamecock 29.

"It was an unfortunate play," Spurrier said. "They were sort of playing man-to-man and the guy came off of one of our receivers and broke on the ball and we hit him a little wider than we had hoped to. It was a bad play for our team and a good play for FSU."

The turnover wasn't the worst thing to happen to the Gamecocks on that play. Reid's helmet hit Lattimore on the chin, causing the freshman to need stitches in his lip and left him lying on the ground motionless for several horrifying moments.

"He's still at the hospital (following the game)," Spurrier said. "He got a helmet right under the chin. I think he cut his lip and had to get a couple of stitches and had a little bit of a concussion along with it."

The Seminoles came out running. Thompson - who finished with 147 yards on 25 carries - ran it four times in a row right down the throat of the Gamecocks to get inside the 5-yard line. However, Florida State attempted an option on 2nd-and-goal that was mishandled and Ponder was dropped at the 11. The Seminoles had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins to give Florida State a 3-0 lead.

After Hopkins' kick went out of bounds, the Gamecocks opened with the 'wildcat' formation for the first time with Stephon Gilmore at quarterback and Connor Shaw at receiver. Gilmore handed it to Brian Maddox for a gain of five, and then the Gamecocks went back to Garcia. After Garcia rushed for a first down he threw an ill-advised pass intended for Ace Sanders near the goal line that was picked off by Mike Harris at 1-yard line.

"If he would just hold the ball with two hands and throw it - he gets that sinker ball on occasion - and that's what happened on a couple of interceptions," Spurrier said. "Hopefully he'll work hard this summer and spring and we'll see what happens."

The Gamecocks held the Seminoles to a three and out, but a 54-yard punt and a block in the back pushed the Gamecocks all the way back to their own 27. Garcia's first pass was behind DL Moore and intercepted by Kendall Smith for the third turnover in three possessions for the Gamecocks.

"Playing the last two games of the season to come out here and perform like that leaves a bad taste in your mouth - in the whole team's mouth," Garcia said.

Cliff Matthews sacked Ponder on the first play, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Florida State. After a Thompson run gained little, the Gamecocks got pressure on Ponder again to force him to throw it away. Hopkins came in and drilled a 48-yard field goal to give the 'Noles a 6-0 lead. It was the third longest field goal in Florida State bowl history.

After Garcia was sacked twice to force a three and out, Lanning got off a beautiful 53-yard punt. He out-kicked his coverage and Reid returned it 28 yards to the Gamecocks 37. A facemask penalty against the Gamecocks on the first play moved the ball inside the 25. After a Ponder scramble set up a 4th-and-2 from the Gamecock 3-yard line, the Seminoles decided to go for it. Ponder rolled out on play-action and had a wide open receiver out of the backfield, but the pass was short and the Seminoles turned it over on downs.

After getting the ball out of the shadow of the end zone, Garcia again horribly under threw his receiver - this time Jeffery - and it was picked off by Xavier Rhodes.

"That deep ball I threw to Alshon was probably the worst throw of the game," Garcia said. "I just kind of threw it side-armed and it came really far inside and that's how it got picked."

After the two teams traded possessions - with South Carolina failing to convert a fourth down - Manuel sprinted 32 yards to move the Seminoles inside the Gamecock 30, but then threw a ball right at CC Whitlock who was unable to come down with the interception. On the next play, Thompson broke one up the middle for 27 yards and a Florida State touchdown to give the Seminoles a 13-0 lead.

"He hit us in the face with a couple of balls we didn't catch," Johnson said. "(We) had some chances with interceptions, ball down on the ground had a chance to recover some fumbles. So we had a chance with a couple of lay-ups turning the ball over. Other than that I was pleased with the effort."

The Gamecocks would make one final surge in the first half. Garcia completed six passes - doubling his total for the half - on the drive. A completion to Alshon Jeffery on fourth down for 21 yards moved the ball to the Seminole 23 with five seconds left. Spencer Lanning nailed the 40-yard field goal as time expired to get the Gamecocks on the board and give the Gamecocks some momentum heading into the locker room after a horrible first half.

"Turnovers killed us - four turnovers in the first half," Garcia said. "Our defense did outstanding. It's hard to beat a team when you turn the ball over that many times."

With Garcia struggling in the first half, completing 12-of-20 passes for 135 yards and three interceptions, the thought of bringing in Connor Shaw for the second half crossed Spurrier's mind.

"There's always a thought of that, but he pretty much got us this far so we felt like let's let him finish this thing," Spurrier said. "Connor Shaw will get a chance in spring practice. We've got a lot of positions up for grabs."

With Ponder out of the game due to a concussion, the Seminoles came out swinging in the second half. Thompson had runs of 19 and 17 and Willie Haulstead had a 12-yard reception to move the Seminoles into Gamecock territory. The Gamecock defense held strong again and forced Hopkins to kick his third field goal of the game, this one from 35 to give the Seminoles a 16-3 lead.

"We held them to a whole bunch of field goals early," Spurrier said. "If we could have made them keep kicking field goals we might have had a chance."

After Kenny Miles busted off a 28-yard run on the following possession, the Gamecocks turned it over for the fifth time. Garcia hit Jeffery with a 15-yard completion, but Jeffery put the ball on the turf and Christian Jones recovered it for the Seminoles.

"We had a lot of turnovers," Spurrier said. "Alshon had a heck of a game but he fumbled one also early in the third quarter. "

Florida State returned the favor on a trick play when Stephon Gilmore intercepted a Toquavius Gilchrist pass on a trick play. An unnecessary block in the back on Whitlock during the return pinned the Gamecocks inside the 10. Jeffery caught passes of 15 and 22 yards to move the ball to midfield, then Garcia found an open Gurley for 29 yards down to the Seminole 12.

With the ball inside the 5-yard line the head ball coach pulled out his bag of tricks. Garcia threw a backwards pass to Sanders, who stepped back and threw it back across the field to a wide open Garcia for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 92-yard drive and trim the Florida State lead to 16-10.

After the teams traded three and outs it was the Gamecock special teams that put the defense in a hole once again. After a 34-yard punt by Lanning, Reid returned it 25 yards to the Gamecocks 30. The Seminoles only managed three yards, but that was enough to put points on the board as Hopkins nailed a 45-yard field goal to give the Seminoles a 19-10 lead heading to the final quarter.

"We punted it twice and they ran both of them down our throats," Spurrier said. "That tells you who had the athletes on special teams. We've got to get better on special teams if we want to win a big ball game."

For the game, Carolina had two punt returns for three yards while Florida State had two returns for 53 yards.

Garcia came back in the second half to have a respectable finish, completing 19-of-34 passes for 243 yards and was sacked only twice by the vaunted Seminole defensive line.

"Stephen struggled early, but then he made some decent throws in the second half," Spurrier said.

Without Lattimore, Miles and Maddox stepped up to have respectable games. Maddox finished with 53 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, and Miles ended up with 70 yards on 10 carries.

"Kenny Miles had some nice runs - averaged seven yards a carry - but we had a long ways to go (to get back in the game) most of the time," Spurrier said. "It was a game that if we played well we had a chance."

The Gamecocks finish the 2010 with a respectable 9-5 record, but after collecting wins over #1 Alabama, Florida to win the SEC East, and rival Clemson for the second time in a row, the last two games will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the Gamecocks from now until September 3rd.

"That was as good as our team could get this year is nine wins so we'll try and get better next year," Spurrier said. "We're a long way off from being a real good team."

Before the Gamecocks step on the field to open the 2011 in Charlotte against East Carolina, there's still work left to be done. With the season now over, the Gamecocks can focus on what it will take to continue progressing to the next level - recruiting.

"I'll let you know after February second when we have either a super signing class or so-so," Spurrier said. "We're hoping to have a super one because there's a lot of them out there that we think can help us next year."

Who knows if Jadeveon Clowney, Gerald Dixon, Gerald Dixon, Jr., Lateek Townsend, or Sheldon Royster among others will end up in Columbia, but Friday night's performance didn't help the Gamecocks' chances.

Bowl Notes

- For the first time in school history South Carolina played in its third consecutive bowl game. This is the seventh year in a row the Gamecocks have been bowl eligible but did not play in a bowl in 2004 due to a self-imposed ban after the Clemson brawl, nor did they participate in the 2007 bowl season after Alabama was chosen over the Gamecocks with identical 6-6 records.

- This was the 16th appearance in a bowl game for the Gamecocks. They are currently 4-12 in bowls. The Gamecocks lost their first eight appearances until winning the 1995 Carquest Bowl over West Virginia. After winning three in a row, the Gamecocks have lost three of their last four bowl games.

- This is the second time the Gamecocks have played in this bowl. After winning the 1969 ACC Championship the Gamecocks were chosen to play in the Peach Bowl. The lost to West Virginia, 14-3. Tommy Suggs, analyst for the radio broadcasts, was the starting quarterback.

- Steve Spurrier is the only coach in school history to take the Gamecocks to five bowl games. In just his sixth year at the helm Spurrier is responsible for nearly 1/3 of the Gamecocks' all-time bowl appearance. No other coach has taken the Gamecocks to more than three bowls. Spurrier is 1-4 at Carolina in bowl games and 7-10 in his college coaching career.

Common Opponents

- The Gamecocks and Seminoles had two common opponents in the 2010 season. Each team met the rival of each other. The Gamecocks beat Clemson, 29-7, and Florida, 36-14. The Seminoles beat Clemson, 16-13, on a game-winning field goal as time expired and dominated the Gators, 31-7.

Special Class

The Chick-fil-A Bowl marked the end of the careers of 20 Gamecock seniors. The senior class finished with 29 wins over the last four years, the most wins in a four-year period in school history.

Playing the Best

Entering the season, the Gamecocks had one of the toughest schedules in the country. That proved to be true as the Gamecock schedule ended up being the fifth-toughest in the country. 10 of the 12 Gamecocks opponents are making bowl appearances. Three of the four losses came to teams playing in a BCS Bowl. Auburn is playing in the National Championship game and Arkansas is appearing in the Sugar Bowl.

Best Fans in the Land

The Gamecocks fanbase has long been thought as one of the most loyal fanbases in college football. In 2010, Carolina ranked 17th in the nation in average attendance. In seven home games, 536,675 fans made the trek to Williams Brice, an average of 76,668 per game.

Looking Ahead

Should all the players with eligibility return for the 2011 season, the Gamecocks would return eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters. Garrett Chisolm, Hutch Eckerson, and Patrick DiMarco are the three graduating on the offensive side. Ladi Ajiboye, Cliff Matthews, Josh Dickerson, and Tony Straughter are the defensive losses. The Gamecocks will also have to replace their solid kicker/punter Spencer Lanning. The Gamecocks open the 2011 season on September 3rd against East Carolina in Charlotte.

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