COLUMBIA, S.C. — Steve Spurrier saw a couple of endings he really liked Saturday night.
The South Carolina coach and all 83,853 people at jam-packed Williams-Brice Stadium watched the final dramatic moments of No. 7 Auburn’s 43-38 victory over No. 25 Georgia on the 124-foot tall video board that kept the Gamecocks in the race for a Southeastern Conference title.
Then Spurrier watched his team rally in the second half behind Elliott Fry’s field goals to overcome Florida’s SEC-leading defense for a 19-14 victory, setting a school record with its 16th straight home win.
“What a game that was, good gracious. Sort of a Hail Mary ball, ricocheting around, he caught it,” Spurrier said of Auburn’s tipped-ball touchdown. “I guess that’s why people watch football on television for games like they had. Ours was pretty interesting, too.”
Now, South Carolina (8-2, 6-2) will cross its fingers and hope that SEC East leader Missouri stumbles at Ole Miss next Saturday or against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M on Nov. 30 to send the Gamecocks to their second SEC title game since 2010.
South Carolina finishes with FCS opponent Coastal Carolina and rival Clemson at home, attempting to build on its school-record 16-game home win streak
“Maybe something bigger’s going to happen for us down the road, I don’t know,” Spurrier said. “We’ll watch Missouri from a distance and get ready for Coastal (Carolina.)”
Fry made field goals of 25, 45, 22 and 43 yards. Bruce Ellington had the Gamecocks’ lone touchdown, a 32-yard grab from Connor Shaw on fourth down to cut Florida’s 14-6 halftime lead to one point.
South Carolina’s defense, scorched by the Florida run game in the opening half, tightened up in the second half to send the Gators to their fifth straight loss, their longest such streak since losing nine in a row during the 0-10-1 debacle of 1979.
“Somehow or another, it worked out again,” Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) struggled to score points against the Gators’ SEC-leading defense until Fry gave them a 16-14 lead with a 22-yard field goal with 6:43 remaining.
Trailing 19-14, Gators freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg led the Gators into South Carolina territory but was intercepted by Jimmy Legree to end the threat.
The Gamecocks’ win surpassed the 15 straight the program won at home from 1978-80 when Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers was leading the way. South Carolina’s 16 straight in its home stadium is longest current streak in the country.
But Florida sure looked ready to end it the way it played in the first half. Without injured starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, the Gators successfully went to the run. They ran for 169 yards in the opening half and Kelvin Taylor had rushing TDs of 20 and 29 yards, the two longest permitted by South Carolina this season.
The Gamecocks defense tightened up in a big way in the second half as Florida managed just 31 rushing yards.
South Carolina’s rally began on Shaw’s 32-yard scoring pass to Bruce Ellington to cut the lead to 14-13 before Fry’s two fourth-quarter field goals provided the final margin.
“We kept ourselves alive,” Shaw said. “I’m proud of our guys for battling back. You can’t count us out at Williams-Brice.”
Florida had its chances. The Gators to South Carolina’s 8 after the Gamecocks’ touchdown, yet Austin Hardin missed a 32-yard field goal.
Florida tried a fake punt play on fourth-and-13 and trailing 16-14, but Trey Burton’s pass to defensive lineman Leon Orr was knocked away with 4:40 remaining.
Shon Carson ran for 102 yards, including a 58-yard burst on South Carolina’s drive that led to Fry’s go-ahead field goal.
Murphy’s sore shoulder kept him from the field despite rehabbing throughout the week. The Gators were also minus starting cornerback Marcus Roberson, who the team said was suspended for violating team rules.
Still, Florida’s defense and made life miserable for Shaw, SEC leading rusher Mike Davis and the Gamecocks.
South Carolina had first-and-goal on the 5 on its opening drive, yet settled for Fry’s 25-yard field goal. The Gamecocks were deep in Florida territory the next time they had the ball and again were held to a field goal.
Florida came in last in overall offense and next-to-last in rushing at 146 yards a game on the ground this season. But Taylor and Mack Brown burst through several open holes as the Gators put up 169 yards rushing in the first half.
Florida did its best not to overwhelm Mornhinweg, whose father Marty is the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, in his first college action. Burton, a receiver, ran the wildcat formation and the Gators ran 22 of 24 plays.
Mornhinweg was 10 of 13 for 107 yards with an interception.
Davis, who came in with 1,058 yards, ran for just 58 — his second fewest in a game this season.
The loss put a capper on a tumultuous week for Florida. Coach Will Muschamp received support from athletic director Jeremy Foley and university President Bernie Machen against program critics. The Gators will have to win their final two games against Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State or they’ll miss the postseason for the first time since 1990 when NCAA issues held them back.
“We have a lot of negativity out there and these guys pulled together and showed what those guys are about,” said Muschamp, who had the fingers bandaged and bloodied on his right hand after hitting a chalk board in frustration. “We needed to make some plays. The bottom is winning and we didn’t do it. That’s on me.”