By Rixon Lane
The 2001 meeting between the Gamecocks and Tigers was the last chance for one of the most successful senior classes in South Carolina history.
The Gamecocks had gone from 1-21 in 1998 and 1999 to an 8-4 season and a bowl win in 2000. Entering the season finale against the Tigers, South Carolina was 7-3 and aiming for back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 1987-88.
However, South Carolina hadn't beaten Clemson since 1996 and was looking to avoid its first five-game losing streak to the Tigers since the 1930s. 85,000 were in attendance, the largest crowd ever to see a game at Williams-Brice Stadium at the time.
Clemson struck first, as Woody Dantzler found Airese Curry for a 54-yard touchdown. Curry was flagged for celebrating after the play and Aaron Hunt missed the long extra point, giving the Tigers a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. Later in the quarter, Clemson had a chance to add to its lead. The Tigers went for a 4th-and-1 from their own 43. Dantzler faked a sneak and had Curry wide open, but put too much air under the ball, allowing Sheldon Brown to make the interception.
The teams traded field goals in the second quarter and the Gamecock offense came up with a big play late in the quarter. Facing 3rd-and-14 from the South Carolina 10, Andrea Gause made a leaping 36-yard catch to keep the Gamecock drive alive. Derek Watson scored on a 6-yard touchdown five plays later to gave the Gamecocks a 10-9 lead at the half.
Daniel Weaver added a 42-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to increase South Carolina's lead to 13-9.
Early in the fourth quarter, it appeared Weaver would get another opportunity. On third-and-goal from the Clemson 8, quarterback Phil Petty, who was questionable for the game with a sore throwing shoulder, kept the ball on a naked bootleg for a gain of seven. On the ensuing play, Lou Holtz gambled and called for a quarterback keeper from Corey Jenkins, who powered into the end zone to give South Carolina a 20-9 lead with just under 13 minutes remaining. The touchdown capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive. South Carolina dominated the time of possession in the second half, keeping the ball for over 21 minutes despite playing without two starting offensive linemen.
Dantzler found Derek Hamilton for an 11-yard touchdown with less than three minutes to go, cutting the lead to 20-15. However, South Carolina converted a third down before giving the ball back to Clemson and Dantzler's last-second Hail Mary was completed well short of the end zone.