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Nov. 25, 2006

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Steve Spurrier says he understands what South Carolina fans have gone through – and hopes they’ll like what they see in the coming years.

The coach said the future started Saturday with the Gamecocks’ come-from-behind 31-28 victory over No. 24 Clemson, ending their 0-5 mark against ranked opponents this season and a four-game losing streak to their Palmetto State rival.

“This one was for our fans,” Spurrier said. “They’ve lived through a lot.”

Particularly when it comes to the Tigers (8-4), who have won almost two-thirds of the 104 games in the series that began in 1896. Things had been really bad since South Carolina’s last victory at Death Valley in 1996, with Clemson winning eight of the previous nine games.

This time, South Carolina (7-5) rallied with the game’s final 17 points on two Mike Davis touchdown runs and Ryan Succop’s 35-yard fourth-quarter field goal.

Clemson kicker Jad Dean missed a 39-yard field goal try wide to the left and the Gamecocks began a celebration they had waited for all year.

“Hopefully, whatever bad things happened to South Carolina football may be erased today,” Spurrier said.

“Sometimes a game like this can do it,” he added. “Only time can tell.”

A week ago, Spurrier was deflecting internet reports he would be the top target for Miami’s open job. Again, Saturday, he said he’s at South Carolina to succeed with the Gamecocks.

Things didn’t look so good in the third quarter, though.

The Gamecocks trailed 28-14 after C.J. Spiller’s second touchdown run early in the quarter and looked like they were about to fall again to Clemson. But the Gamecocks rallied behind quarterback Blake Mitchell, who shook off three earlier interceptions to lead three scoring drives.

Clemson had a final chance, driving to South Carolina’s 12. But Jasper Brinkley sacked Will Proctor for a 10-yard loss, pushing Dean back on his final try. “I didn’t hit it great, but I thought I had hit it good enough,” Dean said.

South Carolina’s Cory Boyd, who rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown, was in tears as he walked through a throng of cheering fans in the corner of the end zone as the band played.

The Tigers opened the year 7-1 and got as high as No. 10 in the polls. But they finished by dropping three of their final four games. The Gamecocks gained 492 yards, surpassing the previous season high of 332 yards Clemson gave up in a loss to Virginia Tech.

“You would like to win every year so you don’t have to experience what we’re experiencing right now,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.

Spiller had an 80-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter, his sixth scoring play of 50 yards or better this season. He ran for 155 yards, coming out on the Tigers’ final drive with a sprained ankle. Bowden said the severity of the injury was unclear.

Davis, who with Spiller formed Clemson’s “Thunder” and “Lightning” backfield, had another subpar game with 19 yards on 11 carries. Davis rushed for 942 yards and 16 touchdowns during the team’s first eight games. He has totaled only 173 yards and one TD since.

Sidney Rice caught 8 passes for 103 yards for South Carolina.

Mitchell, who was 23-of-36 for 268 yards, has been solid since returning to his starting job at halftime of a 26-20 loss to Arkansas three weeks ago. But he had three interceptions, two which led to Clemson touchdowns in the first half.

Then, after the Tigers stopped South Carolina on fourth-and-2 on the Gamecocks’ first possession of the third quarter, Spiller’s second scoring run upped the lead to two touchdowns.

That’s when Mitchell dug in.

He completed throws of 9 yards to Freddie Brown, 18 yards to Rice and 18 to Davis to reach Clemson’s 1. Davis finished off the series with his first TD.

The Gamecocks recovered tight end Thomas Hunter’s fumble moments later at Clemson’s 34. Davis capped the three-play drive, leaping over the goal line to complete his 9-yard run.

South Carolina appeared to take the lead less than a minute later when defensive lineman Nathan Pepper picked off Proctor and had clear sailing to the end zone. But Pepper, a sophomore, began celebrating before crossing the line and tailback James Davis swept the ball away through the end zone.

The Gamecocks got a favorable replay review on the game-winning drive. One of Mitchell’s throws was ruled a lateral and Clemson’s C.J. Gaddis pounced on it for a turnover. Replays, though, showed it was an incomplete forward pass and South Carolina marched on.

Three plays later, Succop give South Carolina the lead for the first time with 7:51 to go.

“It was about time we finally won one of the close ones,” Mitchell said. “And we did. We finally finished one.”