(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.
#9 Fifth-straight football win over Clemson (2013)
Under the leadership of Head Coach Steve Spurrier, the South Carolina Gamecocks went on an unprecedented run defeating in-state rival Clemson five straight times between 2009-2013. But USC’s victory over the Tigers in 2013 meant more to the program than just Palmetto Bowl bragging rights. It helped in securing a third-straight 11-win season, the greatest stretch in school history.
The 2013 Gamecocks brought plenty of momentum into the new season. South Carolina was fresh off of back-to-back bowl victories (‘11 Capital One Bowl/ ‘12 Outback Bowl), and consecutive 11-win campaigns. Spurrier had found his groove.
“What Spurrier was doing at that time was mind-blowing for South Carolina fans,” said Phil Kornblut of Sports Talk Radio Network.
And it appeared it was only going to get better.
USC opened the season with a home win over North Carolina, but was quickly met with an obstacle in week two as No. 11 Georgia toppled the Gamecocks 41-30 in the SEC opener. But South Carolina responded winning each of its next four contests including wins over conference rivals Arkansas, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.
A mid-season loss to Tennessee by two points moved USC’s record to 5-2 (3-2). It was also their final loss of the 2013 season. The following week they traveled to Missouri and took down the No. 5 Tigers, and then Mississippi State, Florida, and Coastal Carolina after that. They were now 9-2 heading into the regular season finale: the Palmetto Bowl.
Before we dive into that ever important game, we’ll need to recap the previous Palmetto Bowl victories leading up to that fifth in a row.
2009: USC def. #15 Clemson 34-17, winning for the second time in the past eight meetings
2010: #18 USC def. Clemson 29-7, Gamecocks outgain Tigers, 322-251, do not commit a turnover
2011: #14 USC def. #18 Clemson 34-13, SC beats Clemson for second time after Tigers had wrapped-up the ACC Atlantic
2012: #13 South Carolina def. #12 Clemson 27-17, Back-up QB Dylan Thompson steps-up for Gamecocks as Spurrier becomes program’s winningest coach
The Game (November 30, 2013)
The last day of November featured the 2013 edition of the Palmetto Bowl as No. 10 South Carolina hosted No. 6 Clemson.
The Tigers were on the move in the opening drive making their way into USC territory. That’s when Dabo Swinney and company dialed-up a trick play in hopes of catching the Gamecocks off guard. Sammy Watkins fired a wide receiver pass to the end zone, but Brison Williams had perfect coverage downfield and made a leaping interception to set the Gamecocks up at the 20. That led to an eight minute march to the end zone, capped off by a Connor Shaw three-yard touchdown run.
Clemson fired right back, scoring with two minutes left in the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7.
USC was forced to punt on the ensuing drive, but Adam Humphries fumbled on the return giving the Gamecocks good field position to strike once again.
Moments later, Shaw tossed a 15-yard score to Connor McLaurin putting the Gamecocks back in front 14-7. They led 17-10 at the break.
It was a sluggish third quarter for both teams and neither group seemed to gain any ground. That is until Clemson had a nearly seven minute drive resulting in a Rod McDowell four-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left in the period.
It was tied again, but it didn’t take long for the Gamecocks to respond.
On their next drive, Shaw led South Carolina on an 11-play, 74-yard drive, ending with a touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd.
On the next possession, in perhaps the most pivotal series of events in the game, Clemson was back in SC territory looking to tie things up at 24-24. But an untimely fumble by Tajh Boyd stunted their momentum. However, the Tigers forced a punt just a couple of minutes later. This would have to be the moment for a game-altering drive.
For the second time in the game, though, Humphries fumbled on a punt return, and South Carolina had the ball right back at the Clemson 34.
Another touchdown throw, this time from Pharoah Cooper to Brandon Wilds, put the Gamecocks in front by two scores.
The Tigers still had some time to make things interesting, but interceptions by Skai Moore and T.J. Holloman ended those hopes, and USC secured its fifth-straight win over Clemson, 31-17
“I know for South Carolina fans, I don’t if it can get any better than that,” said Kornblut.
That win propelled the team to the Capitol One Bowl where they defeated No. 19 Wisconsin, 34-24, completing their third consecutive 11-win season.
“Hard for South Carolina to go back through its history and find a stretch where it won 33 games in 3 years,” said Kornblut. “Not to mention, you’re playing in the SEC and you win 18 league games in 3 years…you’re beating all the big boys.”
Looking back, it’s not hard to see why the Gamecocks were so successful. Spurrier was channeling his peak play-calling from his days at Florida, and there was talent at every level of the team.
“Those Gamecock teams were loaded with pros,” Kornblut said. “They had NFL players at tight end, they had an offensive line that had three or four NFL guys on it. Their defense was loaded. That was a great football team.”
It was the last time the Gamecocks reached double-digit wins, and Spurrier lasted just another season-and-a-half.
But that stretch of victories, and dominance over Clemson, marks the greatest era for winning in program history.
South Carolina Top Ten List: