The wins, likely to land both teams a top 10 spot in the final polls, brought positive attention and much pride to the state of South Carolina.
Not only did the Tigers and Gamecocks win, but they both did it in style:
On Monday, No. 14 Clemson bested the No. 9 Louisiana State Tigers 25-24 when Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Coach Dabo Swinney, his coaching staff and the Clemson football team deserve a pat on the back for the thrilling defeat of LSU, an SEC powerhouse and one of the nation’s elites. The Tigers were led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The junior set career highs for attempts and completions and was named the game’s most valuable player.
Not to be outdone, the No. 11 Gamecocks displayed some drama of their own, defeating No. 19 Michigan, the winningest program in college football history, 33-28 when sophomore quarterback Dylan Thompson tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl.
Congratulations to coach Steve Spurrier, his coaching staff and an outstanding bunch of Gamecocks, led by stellar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who delivered a bone-crushing hit that led to the fumble that turned the tide in the win over the Wolverines. Of course, we can’t overlook Ace Sanders, the game’s MVP, who had a 63-yard return for a touchdown as well as two other TD catches.
Although both teams fell short of their goals to win division and conference championships, the bowl victories by the Tigers and Gamecocks capped strong seasons in which both teams won an impressive 11 games against only two losses. South Carolina reached the mark for the second year in a row, and only the second time in school history. It was Clemson’s first 11-win season since the 1981 championship year, when the Tigers went 12-0, and its fourth in school history.
This season was particularly special for Coach Spurrier, who passed the 200-career-win mark and became the winningest coach in USC history, with his 65th Gamecocks victory coming against Clemson.
While Clemson’s 1981 national championship certainly ranks as the Tigers’ best moment, the two dramatic bowl wins over big-time college programs a day apart easily represents the top football moment for the state of South Carolina. Given their performances the past two years, there’s reason to believe there are many more good moments to come.
Both teams will lose some very good players to the NFL draft, beginning with the departure of South Carolina junior Marcus Lattimore, who dazzled the Gamecock faithful and football fans of all kinds not only with his amazing talent but with his demeanor, personality and courage.
But even with the departures – several stand-out juniors could be among them – Clemson and South Carolina should have a strong complement of players back to help them remain legitimate contenders in their respective conferences. Who knows? Perhaps one will even capture lightning in a bottle and win those elusive couple of games that trip them up each year and prevent them from scaling greater heights.
Of course, only one can win the annual battle for in-state supremacy. With its victory in November, USC has won the past four, and has bragging rights for almost another full year. But with the solid bowl wins and strong seasons they’ve just completed, both have something to strut about. Go Gamecocks and Tigers!