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South Carolina-Georgia 1993: Who Could Forget?

3:12 PM, Sep 8, 2010   |    comments
Brandon Bennett (Photo: GamecockCentral.com)
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David Cloninger

GamecockCentral.com

NOTE:  This story originally ran on GamecockCentral.com in 2008 on the 15th anniversary of Brandon Bennett's fateful dive. It is reprinted here for your enjoyment.

That call. Who could forget that call?

"... Lay down, you guys! Fourteen, 13, 12, lay down! Eleven, 10. South Carolina's going to try to get a play off ..."

Fabled Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson implored his beloved Bulldogs to keep lying on the turf of Sanford Stadium, moments after South Carolina's Brandon Bennett tried unsuccessfully to hurdle a stacked group of players. The Bulldogs led 21-17 but the Gamecocks had driven to the goal line as time wound down.

Georgia denied Bennett but there was time to run more play. USC quarterback Steve Taneyhill frantically motioned his offense to hurry up, get back in formation. Same play, same play!

Bennett, eyes wide as dinner plates and chest heaving, took his spot in the Power I and with the clock hitting :05, saw Taneyhill take the snap and turn to his right, faking a handoff to fullback Rob DeBoer and then completing the circle, ball outstretched as Bennett began running.

The ball thumped into those logcutter's arms and Bennett tucked it between the two 3s stamped on his jersey, churning the legs that would eventually make him USC's second-leading career rusher. He leaped, drawing every ounce of strength he could out of a lower half that made him a star in high school high jumping, and once he saw the red Georgia jerseys just below him, stretched the ball out and over his head.

Munson's agony was broadcast across Bulldog Nation as Bob Fulton's soothing baritone brought instant ecstasy to the garnet and black faithful.

Munson: "... He scored on the last play of the game. Bennett, a great athlete, leaps over the pile and broke our hearts with two seconds to go ..."

Fulton: "... Five seconds, gives the ball to Bennett, he dives, TOUCHDOWN!"

Fifteen years later, that call still resonates. It defined one of the greatest games in USC history, one that culminated a stretch of football where the Gamecocks were one of the best teams that ever played.

South Carolina 23, No. 14 Georgia 21.

Sept. 4, 1993.

"When you think about it, it seems like it hasn't been that long," Bennett recalled, 15 years from the play that made him a legend. "Then you start talking to people or see some of the other guys that played at USC and it's like, 'Man. That was a long time ago.'"

But no one's forgotten. The rest of that season was a nightmare. It became a season of change after it ended. The Gamecocks would only beat the Bulldogs once in the next six tries.

But for one game, one leap, one touchdown, USC was the team to beat. The players became conquering heroes, the coach began to reverse thoughts of several folks saying he had to go and a long-suffering fan base began to wonder if 1993 would truly be The Year.

"I was always confident when our guys played Georgia that we had a chance to compete against them," said Sparky Woods, the coach who presided over the win. "Beating Georgia at Georgia ... that would give anybody confidence, I think.

"It was a great game, great memories. Doesn't seem like very long ago."

The Setup

As it seems they always do, the Gamecocks arrived ready to play Georgia. For whatever reason, USC has historically played some of its closest games against the Bulldogs.

USC was coming off a 5-6 season in 1992, but one that had strangely restored the confidence of everybody associated with the program. At mid-season in 1992, the Gamecocks' first year in the SEC, USC was 0-5 and the team had voted for Woods to quit, leaving the results on a board for Woods to see.

But the team overcame the dissension and rose behind Taneyhill, the brash ponytailed freshman who stepped in and helped deliver a shocking 21-6 win over No. 15 Mississippi State the next week. The Gamecocks surged to five wins in their last six games, falling short of a bowl game but leaving fans aching for the next year, when plenty of talent would return.

Taking the road for the 1993 season-opener, between the hedges in Athens, Ga., confidence was high. Taneyhill wasted no time, hitting Corey Bridges with a 41-yard touchdown, and USC went into the half up 10-7. The Gamecocks scored in the third to make it 17-7, but Georgia scored 14 points in the fourth before USC scratched six more across.

It was 21-17 Dawgs when Taneyhill and Co. began the fateful drive. USC got to the goal line, called time and set up the play.

"We called two plays," Taneyhill said. "Basically, both Brandon over the top."

The first one didn't work, Bennett appearing to clear the line but getting pulled back at the last second.

"Everybody was like, 'Just run the same play!' and we're running around frantic because of the time," Bennett said. "We tried to get everybody up so we could get the play because time was running out. It was something I didn't have time to think about at the time.

"But I always liked to dive over."

Bennett cleared the pileup and tumbled into the end zone. With only two seconds to go, USC led 23-21 and even the Gamecocks couldn't blow this one.

"I was on the sideline begging not to go out for the extra point," said Reed Morton, then a freshman kicker. "I know that sounds bizarre, but we scored the touchdown to go up by two, and Sparky holds up one finger, and here comes the entire kicking team.

"If you watch the film, you'll see me on one knee telling Sparky, 'The only way we can lose this game or tie this game is to have this extra point blocked and go the other way for two points.' They ended up taking a knee and we won the game by two instead of three."

USC was 1-0, about to be in the Top 25 and on its way.

The Aftermath

It didn't last. Arkansas topped USC 18-17 the next week and began a sour trend. The Gamecocks finished 4-7 after leading six games in the fourth quarter. Woods was let go and never got to coach the first group of seniors that he'd recruited.

"Playing week in and week out, not sure we were quite ready for that yet," Woods said. "Injuries are a part of the game, but I think we had more than our share. It's hard to win games and we were fortunate to get that one in, and unfortunate to get some more in later, I think."

A year later, USC breached a milestone. Woods' successor, Brad Scott, utilized most of the talent on that '93 team into a 7-5 season in 1994, including the program's first bowl win.

Those seven games -- the last six of 1992 and the epic Georgia win -- became just another glorious footnote, instead of the kick-start to USC's place among the elite.

The Call

Fifteen years later, the call still gets the most attention. The players didn't hear it -- they were on the field -- but they began to get wind of it once they arrived in Columbia.

"The funny thing is, when we did that play, somebody had mailed me the newspaper and the tape," Bennett said. "I don't know where it came from or who sent it or anything."

"I mean, you heard it on the news and things like that, but I guess until you really appreciated it, it was years later, for sure," Taneyhill said.

Whenever USC and Georgia play, as they will today, the call is replayed. Bennett says he never tires of hearing it or getting the picture of him diving over the pile e-mailed to him, while the fans have their own recollections.

As glorious as the call and the moment were, they can't help but trigger some regret from the players and coaches who were on the field that day. As good as that day was, the rest of the 1993 season became another case of what might have been.

"I think it was one of those things where we just never played our game," said Bennett. "We were always in the game. For whatever reason, and I don't know what it is, we just couldn't close our game."

"We had such high expectations, because of how we finished the year before and how Georgia was ranked and we go down there and beat them," agreed Taneyhill, now a state champion high school football coach in Chesterfield, S.C. "Unfortunately, the season didn't turn out as we had hoped."

Woods bounced around the assistant coaching ranks for a while before landing a head job at VMI in 2008. He regretted not being able to coach his first team of seniors -- although Woods coached five seasons, his first team was guys who committed to Joe Morrison, who died two days before National Signing Day -- but doesn't dwell on it.

"You win like that, you say, 'Man, we're off and running,' but the truth of the matter is there's still good teams coming in," Woods said. "It's hard to build it to where you can win. I don't think nobody understands that better than South Carolina.

"But we thought we were close and the next year, which would have been our guys' senior year, it happened. They went to the (Carquest) Bowl and coach Scott did a good job of coaching those guys up. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to coach that team."

Bennett says he keeps up with teammates Toby Cates and Tony Watkins. Taneyhill credits Hank Campbell as one of his closest friends and spoke with Bennett around two months ago. Woods and Morton have spoken some but not often, with each other or their former teammates.

It's nothing malicious -- it's just in 15 years, there's been a lot of different directions taken.

But once every year, when the latest USC and Georgia clash rolls around, there's always some phone lines heated up, some memories rekindled, some smiles being re-broken out.

Fifteen years ago was a life-changing moment for one select group.

"I had just turned 18 three days before, or four days before," Morton said. "What an experience in your first college game, to go in between the hedges and take care of the Bulldogs."

"We practiced that and ol' Steve executed it really good and they were big and strong and it was hard to get in there," Woods said, chuckling through the phone cord. "But ol' Brandon took it over the top. It was a good day."

"It was definitely one of the loudest times I can remember as a player," Taneyhill said. "Just unbelievable how loud it was down there. Just trying to pick everybody up and just hollering, 'Same play! Same play!'"

For the man of the hour, he of course hopes every USC team can match what he and his teammates did in 1993. It was beautiful last year, as the Gamecocks completed a 16-12 win over the Bulldogs, and it would be just as much fun this year.

He just hopes that maybe there won't be a leaping touchdown run as time winds down. Has to protect his spot, you know.

"That would be nice, if I could hold on to that forever," Bennett laughed. "(Munson)'s probably one of the best announcers I've ever heard and the way he broke that down ... was nice.

"There's a couple of high games -- when I got the rushing record against East Tennessee State, when we beat Clemson down there when I threw the ball across to Reggie Richardson -- but that one, that was special."

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