South Carolina tops Florida, stays in SEC race

Chris Dearing, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- There was no denying what was at stake for No. 10 South Carolina on Saturday night.
The Gamecocks need help to win the Southeastern Conference East title and the first part of the puzzle fell into place during the first quarter of its come-from-behind 19-14 victory over Florida t in front of 83,853 fans at Williams-Brice stadium.
During a timeout, the video board at the stadium showed that Georgia's last-second effort fell short at Auburn. Now, South Carolina needs a loss by Missouri in one of its final two SEC games to win the East for the second time in school history.
The Tigers still face Mississippi and Texas A&M to finish the regular season and the Gamecocks are done with SEC play with a 6-2 league mark.
Georgia was eliminated from the race with the South Carolina win. The Gamecocks hold the tiebreaker with Missouri.
"It was on the screen in the stadium and I think that's when all our people started yelling," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "We haven't even talked about it. Well, after the game I said 'by the way, we do know Auburn beat Georgia today,'"
The victory extended the Gamecocks' home winning streak to 16 games, the longest in the country.
The loss was the fifth in a row for Florida (4-6, 3-5), the longest lossing streak by the Gators since 1979.
Coach Will Muschamp was defiant about all the negative things being said about his program. Florida has 10 players lost for the season because of injuries and seven of them would have been starters. The Gators played South Carolina without starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, who was out with a sore throwing shoulder.
"Guys, it's nonsense," Muschamp said. "You can say what you want say, you can write whatever in the hell you want to write. It's frustrating for that locker room. Forget me. These kids have fought their butts off.
"Our fans need to get a grip. We have a bunch of kids in that locker room that are fighting their butt off. They can critize me all they want. They pay me enough money for that. Those kids don't deserve it. Nobody has every questioned their effort. We just didn't get it done."
South Carolina (8-2, 6-2) was slowed on offense, but walk-on freshman kicker Elliott Fry booted four field goals, including two in the final 6:43, that proved to be the difference. He connected from 22 yards with 6:43 remaining and added a 43-yarder with 2:16 left.
"Somehow, it worked out again," Spurrier said. "We had trouble scoring around the 2- or 3-yard line two or three times. Elliott kicked some field goals and our defense was sensational in the second half."
Trailing 14-6 at the half, South Carolina pulled within a point early in the third quarter.
After the Gamecocks got a three-and-out on defense, quarterback Connor Shaw capped a seven-play, 64-yard drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bruce Ellington on a fourth-and-3.
But the Gamecocks' offense had difficulty moving the ball on the next two series. Running back Mike Davis, the SEC's leading rusher coming in, was hobbled with an ankle injury in the first half. He played in the second half but only finished with 54 yards on 13 carries.
South Carolina started its second-half drives on its own 36, 20, 20 and 10-yard line, but with their backs in the shadow of their end zone, they got the big play they were looking for.
Backup running back Shon Carson broke free on a 58-yard run from his own 5 to the Florida 37. Three plays later, Rory Anderson caught a 32-yard from Shaw, but South Carolina had to settle for the 22-yard field goal from Fry.
The Gators attempted a fake punt on the next series, but Leon Orr could not hold on to a Trey Burton pass and the Gamecocks took over on the Florida 32. Fry connected from 43 yards to close the scoring.
"There is pressure no matter what," Fry said. "Being closer can be a little more nerve-wracking because everybody expects you to make it. A huge part of the kicking game is being able to block the last one out."
Florida redshirt freshman Skyler Morninweg took his first career snaps. Because of Morninweg's inexperience, the Gators used multiple formations that included direct snaps to running backs and Wildcat formations to frustrate South Carolina.
Florida only attempted two passes in the first half but gained 169 yards on the ground.
The Gators scored touchdowns on their first two drives and the Gamecocks had to settle for field goals. The two scoring drives covered 67 and 75 yards, and they used 11 and six plays, respectively, to take a 14-6 lead at the half.
NOTES: Connor Shaw became the winningest starting quarterback in South Carolina history. He now has 25 career wins as a starter. He shared the record with Todd Ellis. ... This was just South Carolina's seventh win over Florida, but the Gamecocks have won three of the last four games in the series. The Gators lead the overall series 24-7-3. ... Florida has used a different starting offensive lineup in all 10 games this season. Muschamp expects QB Tyler Murphy to return this season but would not put a timetable on it.