September 18, 2010

Gilmore's Interception Clinches Game

The ball floated out and the only player around was wearing the other jersey, but who could hope? This was the situation where, as good as South Carolina's defense has been under Ellis Johnson, something would go wrong.

Yet Stephon Gilmore caught it right on the No. 5 stamped on his jersey, began churning his legs and didn't get breathed on while running 80 yards for a touchdown.

Yes, the Gamecocks had a big play, a defensive touchdown. There was no dropped pass, no tripped foot, no out-of-bounds step, no popping the ball loose.

Just one catch, 80 yards, one touchdown -- and one cemented game.

"Stephon Gilmore's interception was the play that took their heart out to end the game," coach Steve Spurrier said.

It was the first pick-six since Eric Norwood did it last year against Georgia, an epic play but a game that ended sourly when the Gamecocks fell four points short. After stressing holding on to the ball on defense -- even issuing a 10-pushup punishment for dropping one and only intercepting six passes among 49 breakups last year -- USC finally did it.

And it was much, much appreciated. Furman was driving downfield after a trick-play touchdown that had cut USC's lead to 12 points, and there was plenty of time to get even or pull ahead.

Sorry.

"I'm glad to see us make a play on a ball and score on defense," Johnson said. "I don't know the last time we did that. We've been harping on trying to turn the ball over, score on defense. Hopefully this will maybe get us started a little bit, do more of it."

Spurrier said after the Georgia game that he was proud of the Gamecocks, but they could still play better. Much of that was getting some of those plays that other teams always seem to do -- score on special teams, get a pick-six, make the "big" play that doesn't have to rely on an All-American receiver or an SEC Freshman of the Year candidate.

Gilmore took it over. While playing by himself for most of the first three games -- teams wisely don't throw to his side of the field -- he finally got a chance. After missing one interception earlier in the game, this one thudded right into his hands.

"They didn't throw to my side too many times, but when they did, I tried to make a play on the ball," he said. "They had a lot of momentum until that play, but our defense calmed down and ended up making the play on the ball."

Opportunity arose, and Gilmore took it.

Now to do it again.

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