By MARK LONG / The Associated Press
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Steve Spurrier’s huge victory at his ol’ stomping grounds is taking him to another place he used to visit all the time — Atlanta.
After years of being the top Gator, the head ball coach led South Carolina to its first division crown in the stadium he nicknamed The Swamp.
Marcus Lattimore ran 40 times for a career-high 212 yards and three touchdowns, Stephen Garcia played turnover-free and the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks upset No. 24 Florida 36-14 Saturday night to clinch the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
“We’ll celebrate a little more than they do,” Spurrier said, referring to Florida winning the East three of the previous four years.
The Gamecocks won for the second time in 19 tries against Florida, snapped an 0-for-12 streak in Gainesville and earned a spot in the league title game for the first time since joining the SEC in 1992. South Carolina (7-3, 5-3 SEC) will play second-ranked Auburn on Dec. 4, with the winner advancing to the Bowl Championship Series.
“Sometimes the Gamecocks get out alive,” Spurrier said, taking a mild shot at The Swamp’s motto “Where only Gators get out alive.”
The Gators (6-4, 4-4) lost to a division opponent for the first time in 17 games, dropped their third consecutive home game and proved they didn’t deserve to play for a championship. It’s the program’s first three-game losing streak at home since 1989.
South Carolina started celebrating after Garcia’s 8-yard TD run early in the fourth that put the Gamecocks ahead 29-7. Players and fans got even more raucous after Lattimore’s 11-yard scoring run with 2:43 remaining.
Spurrier acknowledged that he orchestrated part of the celebration in the closing seconds. He whispered in an assistant’s ear, then removed his headset and electronic equipment.
The assistant talked to players, who then doused Spurrier with — what else? — Gatorade. Several others carried Spurrier toward midfield after the clock hit zero.
“We haven’t had many championships,” Spurrier said. “We had to coach them up a little bit. But we never talked about it until the game was over.”
Spurrier’s Florida teams went 63-5 in Gainesville. He had plenty of important wins along the way — Kentucky in 1991, Florida State in 1991 and 1995, South Carolina in 2000 — but only that one against the Wildcats clinched a title.
When asked where this one stacked up, Spurrier said, “It’s my latest.”
It certainly stands out.
It’s one Florida won’t forget, either.
Andre Debose returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, but it was one of the few highlights the Gators could muster in a game that will go down as one of the worst in school history — even more painful than anything in the Ron Zook era.
“Disappointing,” center Mike Pouncey said. “They outplayed us. They out-schemed us. It’s just disappointing. We wanted that win bad. Can’t look back now.”
Spurrier may have even been embarrassed for his alma mater, the school he developed into a college football powerhouse during his 12 season as coach.
The first quarter was all anyone needed to watch to see how the game would unfold: The Gators ran 18 plays for 51 yards, failed to convert a third down, punted five times and had five penalties.
The Gamecocks had to settle for three field goals from Spencer Lanning, who hit from 49, 47 and 41 yards. He also banged an extra point off the left upright following Lattimore’s 7-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
There was little else South Carolina did wrong.
Garcia had his first turnover-free game since late September. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 156 yards. He added 28 yards on the ground.
“It’s hard to out into words how the team is feeling,” Garcia said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. It took four years, but we’re finally here.”
Lattimore, the league’s second-leading rushing behind Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, demoralized Florida with every carry. He ran 21 times for 83 yards in the first half, then added a backbreaking, 21-yard TD run to cap South Carolina’s opening drive of the second half.
He showed no problems with a bruised knee sustained in last week’s loss to Arkansas. Spurrier even asked Lattimore during the week if he could carry the ball 35 or 40 times.
“I knew he was serious,” Lattimore said. “When he says something, he means it.”
Alshon Jeffrey, the SEC’s leading receiver, came up with several key third-down receptions among his six catches for 53 yards.
South Carolina finished with 395 yards, 169 more than Florida.
The Gators were downright pathetic all night. Meyer called for a “blue out,” asking fans to wear head-to-toe blue to match the team’s all-blue uniforms. But after Debose’s crowd-pleasing kickoff return, the rest of the night was more of a “boo out.”
It looked nothing like the Gators who beat Georgia and Vanderbilt the last two weeks. Florida’s three-headed quarterback system — the one nicknamed “Threebow” because it took three guys to do everything Tim Tebow did so well the last three years — was mostly ineffective.
John Brantley took most of the snaps and completed 16 of 31 passes for 130 yards, with an interception. Trey Burton and Jordan Reed played sparingly. Reed threw a 26-yard TD pass to Chris Rainey late, but was stopped short on a fourth-down run near midfield earlier.
Maybe the most telling play came on the first drive of the second half for Florida. Brantley, who has clearly been a misfit in the spread option, had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage. The ball sailed backward and toward Brantley. Instead of batting it to the ground, Brantley caught it for a 10-yard loss.
“We just didn’t execute,” Meyer said. “We’re just not very good.”