(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 SportsTalk Radio Network.
#7: 1995 Carquest Bowl Win
Prior to the 1994 season, the Gamecocks played in eight bowl games in the program’s 92-year history, but had yet to come away victorious. The 1995 Carquest Bowl win over West Virginia (to conclude the 1994 season) was the proverbial ‘monkey off the back’ as South Carolina captured its first bowl-game trophy. There were other prior accomplishments for the program, but the initial bowl win was a notable milestone.
The ‘94 Gamecocks were led by first-year head coach Brad Scott who replaced Sparky Woods. And there was a lot of energy throughout the fanbase upon the announcement. Scott came to USC after being a part of a national championship team at Florida State, where he was offensive coordinator.
Scott brought his offense to Columbia and inherited highly touted junior quarterback Steve Taneyhil. It proved to be a good fit.
The Gamecocks entered play coming off of three-straight losing seasons. And the biggest hurdle the program faced was that it was still assimilating to a new conference having joined the SEC in 1992.
“They were a newbie in the toughest league in the country,” said Phil Kornblut of Sports Talk Radio Network. “Personnel-wise, they weren’t ready for that move from independent to the SEC. They didn’t have SEC-level players, so they were in the process of growing into an SEC team.”
Taneyhil was a big part of that transition. And his improvement in 1994 translated to the team’s progress as a unit. Scott had his quarterback and they were going to air it out.
“They threw the ball quite a bit. In fact in one game they threw it 61 times,” said Kornblut.
After losing to Georgia in the season opener, the Gamecocks responded with four straight wins moving their conference record to 3-1. But the team hit a skid beginning in week six. They went 1-3 in October and split their final two games of the regular season. A victory over Clemson in the regular season finale salvaged a winning season for SC as they finished 6-5. And it earned them a bowl bid as well.
Taneyhil finished the season completing nearly 63% of his passes while tossing 19 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Their offense was a formidable one, and the Mountaineers of West Virginia were put on notice as a Florida bowl game in January, a highly sought after event, awaited.
“That was significant,” Kornblut said.
The Game (January 2, 1995: Clemson vs. West Virginia)
South Carolina descended upon Miami to take on a Mountaineer team that was entering its second-consecutive bowl game. The Gamecocks were back in a bowl game for the first time since 1988.
It didn’t take long for South Carolina to gain an early advantage.
On the very first play from scrimmage the Gamecocks recovered a West Virginia fumble, setting the team up with great field position. Moments later they drew first blood on a two-yard touchdown pass from Taneyhill to Boomer Foster. Just like that it was 7-0.
The defense held off West Virginia for the remainder of the quarter, and then in the second period Reed Morton added to the USC lead by booting a Carquest Bowl record 47-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The Mountaineers stormed back driving 67 yards, capped-off by a 24-yard touchdown scamper by Robert Walker. Carolina responded promptly, mounting a 13-play, 66-yard drive ending with a short touchdown run by Taneyhill. The Gamecocks were back up double-digits leading 17-7 at the half.
West Virginia came out determined to start the second half by putting together a touchdown drive capped off by a six-yard touchdown reception by Lovett Purnell. It was now 17-14 and West Virginia had all the momentum.
They forced another Carolina punt, putting them in prime position to take the lead.
That’s when free safety Ben Washington took the momentum right back. With the Mountaineers deep in the USC red zone, Washington intercepted Chad Johnston’s pass and returned it 42 yards into West Virginia territory. That led to a Stanley Pritchett diving touchdown run to make it 24-14 SC.
The Mountaineers weren’t going to go quietly, though. At the end of the third quarter Johnson again found Purnell in the end zone bringing them within three at 24-21.
The Gamecocks managed to keep West Virginia off the scoreboard deep into the fourth quarter, but an untimely fumble by Pritchett threatened to take another bowl win USC’s grasp.
The South Carolina defense hung, tough, and didn’t allow the Mountaineers to advance another yard.
South Carolina survived for a 24-21 win and the Gamecocks were finally had a bowl game victory.
“That was big for South Carolina to finally have a bowl trophy to stick in the trophy case,” said Kornblut. “That was a feel-good moment for them.”
It ended up being the notable moment for coach Brad Scott as well, who was unable to get back to a bowl game again before being replaced by Lou Holtz following the 1998 season.
“That was sort of the high moment of his tenure at South Carolina,” said Kornblut.
The Gamecocks have won eight bowl games since that 1995 victory, but the Carquest Bowl still holds a special place in the program’s history.
South Carolina Top Ten List: