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South Carolina 31, Ohio St. 28
Posted: Tuesday January 01, 2002 09:13 PM ET
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TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Sheldon Brown and Daniel Weaver spoiled what could have been the greatest comeback in New Year's Day bowl history.

Brown's 34-yard interception return set up Weaver's 42-yard field goal on the final play of the game as No. 14 South Carolina edged 23rd-ranked Ohio State, 31-28, in the Outback Bowl.

"You always wonder what it would be like to make the game winning kick, especially in a hugh bowl like the Outback Bowl," Weaver said. "I can't think of anything better."

South Carolina, which also beat the Buckeyes, 24-7, in last year's Outback Bowl, appeared to be cruising after opening a 28-0 lead late in the third quarter.

But Steve Bellisari, seeing his first action since his arrest on a drunk driving charge in mid-November, rallied the Buckeyes for four touchdowns over the final 15 minutes. He completed 20-of-33 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

Bellisari was suspended from the team after getting arrested prior to Ohio State's game against Illinois on November 17 and did not play in the Buckeyes' last two regular season games.

"I was proud of the way he handled this whole season," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "I thought he came along very well as a quarterback, and then made a personal mistake. I thought he handled the effect of that. He came back and wanted to do whatever the team needed him to do."

Bellisari entered Tuesday's game in the first half, but was ineffective until scoring on the final play of the third quarter to get the Buckeyes on the board. He engineered three drives in the final period and pulled the Buckeyes even with a nine-yard TD pass to Darnell Sanders with 1:54 left.

"It's been up and down for me," Bellisari said of his career at Ohio State. "I've been through the gamut. But it's been a good career for me at Ohio State. I had a real good time."

Ohio State got back the ball on Derek Ross' interception, but were penalized for excessive celebration and started the drive at the 15.

The Buckeyes appeared content to play for overtime but after one running play, Bellisari lofted an ill-advised pass into traffic that was returned by Brown to the Ohio State 29 with 23 seconds left.

Following two incompletions, Phil Watson picked up five yards on third down. Ohio State called two timeouts to ice Weaver, whose kick barely cleared the crossbar.

The biggest comeback in New Year's Bowl history occured two years ago in the Outback Bowl, when Georgia rallied from a 25-point deficit to defeat Purdue, 28-25, in overtime.

Marshall erased a 30-point halftime to defeat East Carolina, 64-61, in double overtime in this year's GMAC Bowl.

Phil Petty tossed two touchdown passes and Andrew Pinnock scored twice for the Gamecocks (9-3), who reached nine wins for the first time since going 10-2 in 1994 under Joe Morrison. Petty, who injured his shoulder in the first half, completed 19-of-37 passes for 227 yards in his final game for South Carolina.

"Early in the first half I took a shot," Petty said. "An Ohio State guy got into my shoulder pretty good. I'm not really sure how bad it is yet. It was painful, but you play through that stuff."

Lou Holtz, who went 0-11 in his first season at South Carolina in 1999, became the first Gamecocks' coach to win consecutive bowl games.

"I think our seniors have set a record for the most wins in a two-year period," Holtz said. "They also had the record for the most losses in a two-year period. That wasn't their fault. But they did it in the proper order. The seniors have given great leadership."

Prior to Holtz's arrival, South Carolina had won only one of its previous nine bowl appearances, a 24-21 victory over West Virginia in the 1995 Carquest Bowl.

"It's big coming from 0-11 and knowing what coach Holtz did in the past," South Carolina receiver Brian Scott said. "Some guys starting doubting coach. We hung in there, we stared listening. We won the Outback Bowl last year and then did the same thing again this year. It's big."

"A lot of people would probably say it (South Carolina's turnaround) was a miracle," Brown added. "Lee Corso and those guys would probably say it was a miracle again today. To be honest with you, we have a good team here. There are a lot of guys with character."

Ohio State (7-5), which parlayed a 26-20 victory over rival Michigan into a berth in this game, came out flat in its first bowl appearance under Tressel.

For the Buckeyes, their performance in the first three quarters was all too familiar to last year's loss to the Gamecocks, when they seemed disinterested. Coach John Cooper lost for the eighth time in 11 bowl games and was fired the next day.

After a scoreless first period, South Carolina took control in the second with a pair of scores. Pinnock only rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries, but scored on a one-yard TD run 2:23 into the period before Petty and Brian Scott connected on a seven-yard TD pass that made it 14-0 with 7:54 left in the half.

South Carolina scored on its first possession of the second half, taking a 20-0 lead on Petty's 50-yard TD pass to Andrea Gause just 2:04 into the third quarter.

The Gamecocks extended their lead to 28-0 on Pinnock's 10-yard TD run and Petty's conversion pass to Watson with 5:38 left in the third quarter.

After Ohio State closed to 28-14 on Bellisari's 16-yard TD pass to Sanders with 10:12 left in the contest, the Buckeyes' appeared to be dashed when Bellisari fumbled a snap at the South Carolina 23 with six minutes left.

But Ohio State got back the ball one player later when Watson fumbled the handoff. Bellisari found Michael Jenkins for 22 yards before Jonathan Wells bowled in from the 1 two plays later to make it 28-21 with 5:02 left.

South Carolina went three-and-out on its next possession and Bellisari again drove the Buckyes down the field, completing all five passes for 63 yards during the tying drive.

 


 
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