No. 14 South Carolina tries to avoid repeat upset
By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) The Citadel knows how to make a lasting impression.
The Bulldogs put up one of the best-remembered performances - at least by South Carolina fans - in the long history of Williams-Brice Stadium when Citadel quarterback Jack Douglas scored from 1-yard out with 22 seconds left in a 38-35 upset.
The 14th-ranked Gamecocks (8-2) play Citadel (4-6) on Saturday, the first meeting in 21 years since the Bulldogs left the stadium victorious in a game South Carolina fans can't seem to forget.
Douglas, now an insurance executive in Atlanta, recalls attending an NCAA baseball tournament regional at South Carolina in 2010 to cheer on participating Citadel. In the parking lot, Douglas talked with a Gamecock supporter who said the last Citadel event he watched was the 1990 contest.
And the fan couldn't get the Bulldogs out of his craw, particularly their quarterback who he said was slow, couldn't throw and made too many poor decisions. "We should've laid him out," Douglas recalled this week by phone. "I didn't want to tell him it was me."
Douglas is attending Saturday's matchup, although pulling off another miracle will be near impossible.
The Gamecocks' defense is fourth in the SEC and the major reason they have a chance at just their fourth nine-win season in 118 years of football. The offense has lost starters in running back Marcus Lattimore to injury and quarterback Stephen Garcia to dismissal, but still has gone 5-0 against Southeastern Conference divisional opponents.
South Carolina finished up its SEC schedule last week, defeating Florida 17-12 to win six league games in a season for the first time since joining in 1992. The Gamecocks' chance at returning to the league title game is remote, needing Georgia to lose at home to Kentucky, which is 1-5 in SEC play. So coach Steve Spurrier is focused on wiping out a little negative history against the military college.
"Yeah, I mentioned that to our team," Spurrier said. "That it is a very big deal if an in-state school beats the state university anywhere. We'll be ready to play these guys."
The Citadel was certainly ready to play 21 years ago. Then coach Charlie Taaffe recalled giving his players a copy of a local newspaper column that said all the Gamecocks had to do to win was show up. "Bingo," Taaffe said. "That's all we needed to hear."
The Bulldogs led 14-0, then trailed by a touchdown with 8 minutes to go. A field goal cut the deficit, then Citadel's Torrance Forney recovered an on-side kick to set up a frantic final series.
Douglas remembered thinking he didn't want to tell his grandchildren one day "that I almost beat South Carolina."
Douglas fumbled in the red zone on the winning drive, but the Bulldogs recovered for a first-and-goal at the 10. On fourth-and-inches, Douglas scored the go-ahead points and watched the disbelief throughout the stadium.
He says he has a framed photograph of his TD run from behind the play where you see one fan in Citadel blue with arms raised in triumph. "And rows of Gamecocks not knowing what to do," he said with a laugh.
While the odds are long against another upset, the Bulldogs are back to running the triple-option, the offense Taaffe and Douglas used to steal one from the Gamecocks.
Current Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said the offensive scheme gives even the smallest teams the chance to hang in there. South Carolina was against the ropes to Navy in the fourth quarter before pulling out a 24-21 victory in September.
The Bulldogs carry the same won't-back-down spirit Douglas' team had more than two decades ago.
South Carolina is "a faster team than we have played previously, but the guys can be beat just like another team," Citadel running back Rickey Anderson said.
Gamecocks defensive tackle Travian Robertson, the SEC defensive lineman of the week for his effort against Florida, said it's impossible to replicate the attack in practice and teams must stay sound in technique to slow it down. Robertson says the players are looking at this as the latest chance to continue a special season.
"Coaches work on us and they talk to us about the game that was lost years ago," he said. "We know this is a team that has the potential based on the scheme."
"This is one of the games we have to win," Robertson says, "to make 10 (wins). That's the only thing we focus on is reaching our goals."
Updated November 18, 2011