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Road warriors

Gators travel to Columbia and smack down Gamecocks

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Posted: Saturday November 10, 2001 11:05 PM
Updated: Sunday November 11, 2001 10:10 AM
  Rex Grossman Rex Grossman's 1-yard touchdown run was the first of Florida's three touchdowns in the second quarter. AP

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Rex Grossman turned "Black Out Florida" into knock South Carolina out of the Southeastern Conference race.

Grossman had his school-record ninth consecutive 300-yard game, passing for three touchdowns and running for a fourth as the fourth-ranked Gators beat No. 14 South Carolina 54-17 on Saturday night.

Grossman and his teammates were more amused than overwhelmed when much of the record 84,900 at Williams-Brice Stadium turned out in black.

"It was fun," Grossman said. "It was like they weren't even there. They were blacked out. Then we drove them out, they left."

Even Florida head coach Steve Spurrier chuckled at the sight. "One of our receivers said, 'Coach, it was nice of them to wear all black so we can pick the ball out of the sky,'" he said.

Now, the Gators (8-1, 6-1 SEC), who scored on their first nine possessions, can reach the SEC championship game by beating Tennessee on Dec. 1.

All week, Florida heard how South Carolina was no longer the SEC pushover it has generally been since joining the league in 1992. But after the Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3) took a 10-3 lead on Derek Watson's 7-yard touchdown and Daniel Weaver's 32-yard field goal with 5:12 to go in the opening quarter, it was a Florida romp like so many times before.

Only time stopped the Gators from a perfect offensive night. They started their 10th and final possession on their 36 with 46 seconds to go.

"Like I said, it's really hard to stop them," South Carolina defensive lineman Langston Moore said. "We knew what they were going to do and they did it. We just couldn't stop them."

It was the most points allowed by South Carolina in head coach Lou Holtz's three seasons and the most given up since a 63-7 loss to the Gators in 1995.

Jeff Chandler was 4-of-4 on field goals, including makes from 42, 44 and 46 yards, and linebacker Travis Carroll returned an interception for a touchdown.

But it was Grossman who got things going. He threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney -- moving past coach Steve Spurrier's 4,848 yards on Florida's career pass yardage list in the process -- to tie the game. Then he stretched the ball over the pile for a 1-yard scoring run on Florida's next series for a 17-10 lead.

After Marquand Manuel intercepted Phil Petty's pass that tipped from behind by Florida lineman Alex Brown, Grossman lofted a ball to Reche Caldwell in the left corner of the end zone with 26 seconds left as the Gators went ahead 27-10.

Grossman set a school record with his ninth consecutive 300-yard game, finishing 21-of-33 for 302 yards. Gaffney, who had a 59-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, had six catches for 110 yards.

"I don't think we punted again tonight which is very effective," Grossman said. "We played well. This is a huge, huge victory. If we didn't win our season would have been over."

It was week like no other in South Carolina's mostly mediocre football history. ESPN's "College GameDay" set up next to Williams-Brice Stadium and Holtz told the crew Saturday morning that if the Gamecocks found the confidence to hang with the Gators, it could be a very special outcome for South Carolina.

But the record crowd of 84,900 was quickly quieted by the Gators efficient offense.

"This was devastating, physically, mentally, every which way," said Holtz, who told the ESPN crew that too much flu medication this week gave him a irregular heartbeat. "I'm still in a state of shock and the players are too, I'm sure."

Florida's defense, often overlooked, held the Gamecocks to 66 yards in the second quarter and 25 yards in the third.

When the Gamecocks finally broke through for a touchdown with 4:28 left and trailing 47-10, the stadium scoreboard shot off a firework display that had long ago lost its punch.

South Carolina limped out of its stadium looking more like Vanderbilt, who the Gators blitzed 71-13 last week, than a team heading to its second consecutive postseason.

Petty and Watson were knocked out on the same play -- Carroll's 24-yard interception return score.

Petty left with a shoulder injury while Watson had a hip pointer. Earlier, starting linebacker Kalimba Edwards sprained his knee and did not play the second half.

Meanwhile, the Gators continued reaching milestones. Gaffney became the first receiver in Florida history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Grossman joined Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel as Gators quarterbacks with more than 3,000 yards in a season. Caldwell had his 10th consecutive game with a TD catch. Robert Gillespie joined Erict Rhett as Gators backs with 1,000 career receiving yards.

 
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