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April 19, 2008

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COLUMBIA – Tommy Beecher’s Black Team jumped out to a 31-7 halftime lead, then held off a Chris Smelley-led Garnet Team rally in the second half, to post a 37-34 win in the Annual Garnet & Black Spring Game, held Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. A crowd estimated at 31,125 watched an aerial assault as four quarterbacks combined for 30 completions in 65 pass attempts, totaling 450 yards and five touchdowns through the air, including a touchdown reception by Scott Spurrier, who snuck into the game off the sidelines behind the Black team’s secondary late in the third quarter.

Playing under traditional rules in the first half, the defense held the upper hand, picking off seven passes. Beecher had the better of the quarterbacks’ performances, completing 8-of-16 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown. The opening score for the Black Team came on a series of Brian Maddox rushes, moving the ball 26 yards in four plays for the touchdown.

Smelley struggled early, throwing a pair of interceptions on the Garnet Team’s first two drives. After Mark Barnes collected the second of Smelley’s picks at the goal line and returned it to the 23, Beecher efficiently moved the chains and put his team up 14-0 with a 34-yard scoring pass to Dion Lecorn.

Another interception by Barnes set up the Black Team on the nine yard line. Mike Davis needed just two plays to put the ball in the end zone for a 21-0 Black Team advantage. Three minutes later, Maddox extended the lead to 28-0 with a 37-yard scoring burst.

Garnet finally got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter. Smelley connected on back-to-back 18-yard passes to Matt Clements and LeCorn, setting up a 28-yard touchdown pass to LeCorn with 52 seconds left in the half. Still, Black was not finished. Bobby Wallace broke a 26-yard run to get to the Garnet 39 yard line. A pair of incomplete passes left the team with just three seconds left before intermission. Ryan Succop nailed a 56-yard field goal, putting Garnet up by 24 as the teams went into the lockerroom.

The second half featured a running clock and possessions at Coach Spurrier’s will. Smelley was much more efficient in the new format, hitting 6-of-8 passes for 116 yards. He opened the half with a 15-play, 62-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard scoring pass to Weslye Saunders to pull the Garnet Team within 31-14. Garnet got to within 10 at 31-21 when Mike Newton intercepted a pass and returned it 82 yards to paydirt.

The longest completion of the day was a 46-yard completion from Smelley to Scott Spurrier, who, in cohoots with the head coach, dashed onto the field from the sideline at about the 20-yard line to collect the pass in the middle of the field and cruise in for the touchdown, which made it a 31-28 game late in the third quarter.

Garnet took its only lead at the start of the fourth quarter when Chris Culliver recovered C.C. Whitlock’s fumble and sprinted 83 yards into the end zone. Black pulled out the victory when walk-on signal-caller Zac Brindise put together a 10-play, 83-yard drive to end the game. The final touchdown came on a three-yard pass reception from Brindise to Joe Hills as time expired.