Freshman tailback Thomas Dendy rushed for 155 yards, 70 coming on a touchdown run, as South Carolina redeemed itself today and beat Navy, 17-14.
The Gamecocks, satisfied that for once they were not intercepted although they gained only eight yards passing, gave Coach Richard Bell the game ball after they ended a four-game losing streak and soothed the local boobirds. If 5-5 Navy has been suffering from injuries, 4-6 South Carolina has been killing itself with mistakes, and the once-loyal redshirts had become red-faced with indignation.
There were jeers in the second half, as the Gamecocks threw only three times while trying to hold onto a 17-7 halftime lead. But the reaction was positive as South Carolina used 20 straight running plays to gain 93 yards and use 8 minutes 9 seconds late in the game.
With Dendy four times making first-down yardage on third down and once on fourth and two at the Navy 24, South Carolina marched from its one to the Navy six before yielding possession with only 31 seconds left.
"I know there are only 100 yards on the field, but it looked like 125 on that last drive," said Dendy, whose season's yards reached 742 to eclipse George Rogers' school freshman record of 623, set in 1977.
For Navy linebacker Andy Ponseigo, credited with a season-high 23 tackles, the field undoubtedly seemed 150 yards long in those fading moments.
"They were beating us off the ball and we just couldn't stop them," Ponseigo said. "It was certainly frustrating."
As usual, Navy's frustrations included a sizable quota of injuries. Today the Midshipmen lost quarterback Tom Tarquinio with a bruised shoulder, tight end Mark Stevens (sprained shoulder), linebacker Carl Wagner (sprained knee) and cornerback Jon Ross (mild concussion).
Tarquinio was injured just before halftime and sophomore Rick Williamson, who had played briefly in two games, took over at the start of the second half with Navy 10 points behind.
The Midshipmen's first series that half ended when Williamson's first collegiate completion was fumbled by fullback Andy Skehan, with tackle Andrew Provence recovering for the Gamecocks at their 41.
The next time, though, Williamson took the Midshipmen 73 yards in eight plays to a touchdown, which Williamson produced on a one-yard sneak. Tailback Rich Clouse gained 48 yards in six carries on the drive, making much of it behind the left side of the line, with tackle Doug Borrebach and guard Mark Woodhouse driving the Gamecocks backward.
Navy had the ball five more times and managed only three first downs. The closest the Midshipmen came to scoring was when plebe Todd Solomon was wide to the left on a 48-yard field-goal try.
"We have problems on offense," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill. "In the second half, we were our own worst enemies, jumping offside in key situations and just not being able to block their interior people."
With all that, Navy hopes still were high when Joe Papetti hustled downfield to corral Mark Colby's punt at the Gamecocks' one-yard line. For further interest, Bell decided at that point to replace starting quarterback Bill Bradshaw with Gordon Beckham.
"We expected better field position, the 20 at least," Bell said, "and we were looking for a momentum change. I thought Gordon could give us a different dimension by throwing the ball. But he didn't have to cock his arm."
The close shaves will form unpopular movies at Annapolis this week, because several times in key situations on the ensuing drive, Dendy appeared trapped, only to escape and get a first down. Most of the big plays came on sweeps, as South Carolina took advantage of the immobility on Navy's flanks.
"I thought we were in good shape when we had them pinned at the one," Tranquill said. "We had stopped them before and we should have stopped them again. But when you look at the guys we had left on defense -- we had a lot of down-the-line players out there by then."
At the start, Navy seemed headed for the victory that would have insured a winning season. Taking the opening kickoff, the Midshipmen drove 66 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead. Tarquinio, who was four for four for 44 yards in the drive, threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Stevens.
South Carolina, on fourth and two at the Navy 27, ignored the chants of "Go" from the 51,622 fans and settled for a 44-yard field goal by Mark Fleetwood, his 15th success in 16 attempts.
The Gamecocks forced a big break when Tarquinio, as he was hit by end Karey Johnson, threw into the hands of linebacker Paul Vogel at the Navy 45. Vogel ran it back to the 31 and in five plays, plus two offside violations by the Midshipmen, South Carolina had a 10-7 lead. Tailback Todd Berry, who ran for 129 yards, covered the last two for the touchdown.
The next Gamecock score came on a running play on a third and 17 from the 30. Dendy broke through the left side, showed some fancy steps that left Evan Oliver and Kurt Dixon grabbing air at the 35 and went all the way down the left sideline. Remarkably, the final block on Papetti at the Navy 20 was made by quarterback Bradshaw, who beat Dendy down the field.
"I didn't think Dendy was as tough as he was," Tranquill said. "He broke tackles and he made people miss."
Here in Columbia, he also made a lot of people very happy.