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No. 14 Clemson 16, South Carolina 14
Associated Press


CLEMSON, S.C. -- First, Aaron Hunt said he was sorry. Then he showed his Clemson teammates how much he meant it.

Hunt, a freshman, stood before his teammates Friday night and apologized for botching two field goals in Clemson's 31-28 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 28. Hunt said he felt he cost the team its undefeated season and national championship shot.

Chad Carson
Chad Carson and Clemson gained an emotional win to close their season.
Hunt couldn't have found a better way for redemption, hitting three field goals -- the last a 25-yarder with seven seconds left -- as No. 16 Clemson beat South Carolina 16-14 in one of the rivalry's wildest endings.

"He said he was sorry and it wouldn't happen again," quarterback Woody Dantzler said. "For a freshman to do that, I take my hat off to him."

Hunt came in only 5-of-10 on field goals. Coach Tommy Bowden seemed as likely to fake a kick as to try one this season. But it was Hunt who led the way when the Tigers (9-2) offense was held to 22 points fewer than its average by the Gamecocks (7-4).

Hunt's kick would have gone through from 45 yards and sent Death Valley into a frenzy, and the Tigers off to the Gator Bowl with their best regular-season record since 1991.

"I am not a hero," Hunt said as reporters and cameras circled him. "It was a team effort."

But that's not how holder Jeff Scott approached it when Hunt came out for the game-winner. "I told him that he made this kick, they'll remember for around here for a long time," Scott said. "I could tell the moment he hit it, it was good."

The Tigers looked dead after Thomas Hill, a tight end who had no catches this season, fell on Derek Watson's fumble in the end zone with 59 seconds to go for a 14-13 lead.

But Dantzler found his favorite receiver, Rod Gardner, for a 50-yard catch to South Carolina's 8 with 10 seconds remaining.

"Once they scored, I knew I had to make a play and once I made the catch, I knew it was over," said Gardner, whose 29-yard touchdown catch a year ago secured Clemson's 31-21 victory at South Carolina. "There was no way (Hunt) was going to miss the kick."

Cornerback Andre Goodman knew where the ball was going when he saw Dantzler roll out. "There's nobody else he's going to throw to" than Gardner, Goodman said. "He made a play and I didn't."

Watson's kickoff return didn't make it past the 40 and Clemson had its fourth straight victory in the series, which dates to 1909.

The Gamecocks (7-4) had seeming pulled off the unthinkable -- going from a 21-game losing streak the past two seasons to a berth in the high-tier Citrus or Outback bowls.

But the Gamecocks' defense, which had held Clemson to 24-points below its season average, allowed the Tigers and Dantzler to go 60 yards in less than a minute for the victory.

"You never think you have it won, not as long as there are 29 people on the field. You never think you have it won," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz. When told there are 22 players, he just shrugged. "There are 29 people on the field, just trying to be accurate."

Asked if the officials, who called two offensive pass interference penalties on the Gamecocks, did a bad job, Holtz said, "I can't say that."

South Carolina, which has lost three straight, will most likely head to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta or the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

Clemson accepted a bid to the Gator Bowl earlier this week. It is awaiting its opponent, which bowl officials say is probably Virginia Tech or Notre Dame.

But bowls were the farthest things from Clemson or South Carolina after this one.

The Tigers jumped to the sky when Hunt's kick sailed through. Then rushed the field once the kickoff return rolled out of bounds as Watson tried a lateral.

Hunt had the go-ahead field goal right before halftime as Clemson led 10-7. Gardner was instrumental in that one, too, making a one-handed, 40-yard catch to the Gamecocks' 4. Three plays later, Hunt converted a 22-yarder.

Hunt made a 31-yard field goal with 14:05 to go to make it 13-7 before the craziness began.

Bowden said he decided to use Hunt no matter what against South Carolina. "I think this says a lot about his mental toughness," he said.

South Carolina, which came in averaging 24 points, couldn't get much going. Quarterback Phil Petty, who had six interceptions all year, threw three in third quarter to kill off drives in Clemson territory.

The Gamecocks only touchdown the first 59 minutes was a 61-yard burst by Watson, who finished with 150 yards to become only the third rusher at South Carolina to reach 1,000 yards since George Rogers' Heisman Trophy season of 1980.

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 Woody Dantzler finds Rod Gardner 49 yards down field to set up a game-winning field goal for Clemson.
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 Thomas Hill recovers Derek Watson's fumble in the end zone to put the Gamecocks ahead.
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