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Oct. 9, 2004

Final Stats

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. – In a season where two-quarterback rotations are in vogue, Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe went one better, shuttling three signalcallers in and out in a 31-28 victory over No. 25 South Carolina on Saturday

Ethan Flatt became the hero, finding Bill Flowers in the corner of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:05 left.

Cutcliffe kept the plan secret from his team, only telling the three quarterbacks “to have their helmets on and straps buttoned because we might play them anytime.”

Running back Vashon Pearson didn’t even realize what was up until the opening series when Flatt took the first snap, backup Micheal Spurlock was behind center on the next play and third-stringer Robert Lane replaced Spurlock on third down.

“It seemed so crazy. I wasn’t sure it was going to work,” Pearson said. “But now I think we need to do it all the time.”

Cutcliffe rotated his quarterbacks on a play-by-play basis. Flatt often came in on passing downs and finished 18-of-27 for 214 yards. The other two quarterbacks mainly ran the ball, with Spurlock gaining 34 yards on eight carries and Robert Lane running for 16 yards on four carries.

The quarterback platoon stumped the Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern) early as the Rebels quickly took a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter and led 21-14 at half.

And it could have been worse. On two other drives, Mississippi quarterbacks overthrew receivers with a step or two on the secondary and a clear path to the end zone and late in the second quarter, fumbled the ball away deep in South Carolina territory.

“They came out and did different things we haven’t seen before,” linebacker Ricardo Hurley said. “We had to adjust to it at halftime.”

The Gamecocks’ defense – first in the SEC in rushing defense and third against the pass – gave up 319 yards in the first half. South Carolina came in allowing 256 yards a game.

The defense stiffened in the second half, holding Ole Miss (3-3, 2-1) to 95 yards. But most of those came on the winning drive.

While Cutcliffe wasn’t shy about switching quarterbacks for most of the game, Flatt got the ball for all the final drive as he marched the Rebels 73 yards in less than 90 seconds.

Two plays before the winning touchdown, Flatt overthrew Mario Hill in the end zone. With Ole Miss facing fourth-and-10 at the South Carolina 29, the coaches decided to run the same play, called “X-Takeoff.”

This time Flowers sprinted behind South Carolina’s secondary, then made a tough catch on an underthrown ball, just staying inbounds.

“I knew I had to make a different type of throw,” Platt said. “But I wasn’t surprised it was open. It was open the first time.”

South Carolina had one more chance, getting the ball down to the Ole Miss 31 with 30 seconds to go. But after Syvelle Newton spiked the ball, Corey Mills sacked him on second down, then the Rebels broke up two passes in the end zone.

The loss ruined an excellent performance by Newton, who was starting his first SEC game. Newton was 12-of-27 for 291 yards and a touchdown. He also led the Gamecocks in rushing, gaining 65 yards on 19 carries.

But a bad decision by Newton on a risky call by coach Lou Holtz might have cost South Carolina some precious points.

The Gamecocks drove to the Ole Miss 12 with 7 seconds left in the first half. Holtz decided to run one more offensive play instead of going for the field goal. Newton scrambled a bit too long and Noah Whiteside dropped the pass in the end zone as the clock expired.

“We probably should have kicked a field goal there,” Holtz said.

Newton looked shaky when the game started and didn’t get on track until Holtz jolted him with a quarterback switch of his own.

Freshman Blake Mitchell came in after the team failed to get a first down in the first quarter and immediately led the Gamecocks to the end zone, completing all three of his passes on the drive, including a 17-yard touchdown strike to tight end Andy Boyd.

“You can tell we came out a little flat,” Newton said.

Newton then led the Gamecocks on three touchdown drives, and Demetris Summers’ 17-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter gave South Carolina a 28-24 lead.

But the Ole Miss defense stiffened and the Gamecocks couldn’t run out the clock.

Known as a conservative coach, Cutcliffe said he figured the unusual strategy was worth the risk after his Rebels struggled to beat Arkansas State last week.

“When you’re not playing any better than we are, not too many decisions are difficult,” Cutcliffe said.

And he may never do it again. “It will be a week-by-week decision,” Cutcliffe said.