(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in South Carolina Athletics’ countdown. Starting Tuesday April 14, we will be revealing portions of the list nightly on 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Gamecocks history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with Phil Kornblut of Sports Talk Radio Network.
#10: 1969 ACC Football Championship
When it comes to Gamecocks football few accomplishments compete with the ACC champs. The 1969 squad remains the only team in program history to be crowned conference champion. To this day, it’s still one of the more memorable achievements in school history and members of the ‘69 Gamecocks returned to Columbia in 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
It was a pivotal season for fourth-year head coach Paul Dietzel and the South Carolina Gamecocks. After reaching five wins just twice in the previous nine seasons Dietzel was determined to capture that conference title and bring SC back to a bowl game for the first time since 1946.
“He had under-delivered up to that point,” said Phil Korblut of Sports Talk Radio Network. “People were like ‘where’s the winning?’ He promised a golden era of Gamecock football.”
In 1969, Dietzel would deliver on his promise.
USC opened up the season with back-to-back home wins over then conference rivals Duke and North Carolina, winning each by a one-possession score. Former walk-on Fred Ziegler, who would lead the league in receptions (52), secured victory for the Gamecocks against UNC with a one-handed touchdown catch late in the game. But the following week, they traveled to Athens to take on the seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia defeated the Gamecocks handily,41-16, dropping USC to 2-1 on the season.
That loss was followed by three-straight victories, building momentum in their chase for the ACC Championship.
USC defeated both Maryland and N.C. State to improve to 4-0 in conference play while adding a non-conference win over Virginia Tech, moving to 5-1 overall. The victory over Tech was a masterful one as quarterback Tommy Suggs, who ranked first in the ACC in several passing categories that season, led the team 49 yards down the field in 49 seconds, setting up Billy Dupree for the game-winning 47-yard field goal. Final score: USC 17, Virginia Tech 16.
But adversity struck once again at the start of November. Trips to Florida State and #3 Tennessee resulted in double-digit losses, and the Gamecocks again found themselves staring at another .500 season. The two-game losing streak had them at 5-3, but still undefeated in conference play. Two ACC games loomed to close out the regular season, but a win over Wake Forest the following week secured them that elusive title.
On November 15 in Winston-Salem, the Gamecocks battled Wake Forest in front of 25,000 fans. Suggs threw three touchdown passes as South Carolina routed the Demon Deacons, 24-6, clinching the ACC Conference Championship. A win the following week over Clemson capped off an undefeated conference season for the Gamecocks (6-0).
“It finally came to fruition in ‘69 when they went undefeated in ACC play winning 7 games overall,” said Korblut. “For South Carolina at that time, that was a great year.”
They faced No. 19 West Virginia in the Peach Bowl on December 30, but fell to the Mountaineers, 14-3, in less than ideal conditions.
“[It was] played at Old Grant Field on the Georgia Tech Campus at night in an absolute monsoon,” Kornblut said. “I mean it rained from beginning to end.”
Despite the bowl game loss, the ‘69 season propelled the program to more consistent success over the next decade, which included two more appearances in bowl games.
Dietzel, however, was never able to reach the heights achieved in that monumental year and left coaching in 1974.
Kornblut maintains, however, that the 1969 ACC Championship can be looked at with both pride and frustration.
“You’ve got a championship and those are to be cherished, and [they’re] few and far between for a lot of schools. And they have their one true championship from 1969 in the ACC.”
But on the other hand, “I think it’s more of an indictment considering what they’ve been able to put into the program.”
South Carolina Top Ten List:
#9: ’13 football win over Clemson for fifth straight time
#8: 1980 George Rogers Heisman Trophy Season
#6: 1971 Men’s Basketball ACC Title
#5: 2017 Men’s Basketball Final Four
#3: 2017 Women’s Basketball National Championship
#2: 2011 College World Series Championship