COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) It was once said: "Blindfolded, with his back to the wall, with his hands tied behind him, Steve Spurrier would be a 2-point favorite at his own execution."
You could probably say the same for Connor Shaw.
That famous quote, from John Logue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, came in 1966 after Spurrier, then the Gators starting quarterback, orchestrated two late touchdown drives at N.C. State to lead the Gators from down 10-3 to a 17-10 victory.
I wasn't at that game, but I doubt it compared to the comeback witnessed Saturday night when South Carolina senior quarterback Connor Shaw led the Gamecocks to a 27-24 two-overtime come-from-behind victory over Missouri.
His team down 17-0 and still nursing a sprained knee, Shaw entered the showdown with No. 5 Missouri with 6:46 to go in the third quarter and the Gamecocks' SEC East hopes dwindling.
On Shaw's first drive, the Gamecocks were forced to punt. But what happened next was nothing short of legendary.
Shaw led his team on five straight scoring drives -- two in overtime -- as the Gamecocks pulled one of the most incredible, unbelievable, unexpected come-from-behind rallies in school history to defeat the Tigers and keep their SEC East hopes alive. (If the Gamecocks win their final two SEC games, and Missouri and Georgia lose a conference game, South Carolina goes to Atlanta.)
"It was a game that I thought we were dead, about three quarters of the game, anyway," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "We made some points there in the fourth quarter. Connor Shaw brought us back."
Shaw finished 20 of 29 passing for 201 yards and three touchdowns as the gritty senior -- hobbled by his injury and not nearly the run threat he normally is, and also apparently dealing with flu-like symptoms -- seemingly willed his team down the field.
Shaw with the Mayor's Cup following Saturday night's win.
"First of all, Connor wasn't even supposed to be out there playing," defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said. "For him to come out and do what he did, that's amazing. I love that man to death, and I wouldn't take an NFL Hall-of-Famer or no other quarterback over him. I love that man to death and I'm proud of what he did."
For much of the night, it didn't seem likely Shaw would play. The Gamecocks' senior dual-threat quarterback sprained his knee late in last week's loss to Tennessee, and was expected to miss 2-3 weeks. Back-up Dylan Thompson has stepped up when the Gamecocks needed him in the past. Shaw was available as the Gamecocks' back-up for this game -- the two friend's roles reversed this time -- but Shaw hadn't practiced much during the week and appeared to favor his knee in warmups.
Thompson got the start and South Carolina was able to successfully move the football for much of the game, but three turnovers and two turnover-on-downs had kept them out of the end zone.
"He had my back," Thompson said of Shaw. "It's just awesome to have a teammate like that, a guy that can provide a spark, and I thought that was great for our team. We're just really enjoying this win right now."
Shaw's spark proved to be exactly what the team needed.
With 6:36 to play in the third quarter, Shaw entered the game for the first time, South Carolina trailing 17-0.
"I went over and asked him, 'Can you play?' and he said, 'Sure,'" Spurrier said of his conversation with Shaw. "I said, well we've got to make the move now."
The Gamecocks were stopped on their first drive, but on the next drive Shaw marched them 65 yards on 13 plays and cut into the deficit on a six-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington. Shaw completed 5 of 7 passes on the drive for 58 yards. The connection with Ellington would prove prophetic.
"I just told Connor, 'Just go out there and do your thing,'" All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. "He's been hurt all week, everybody knows. He just put the team on his back and carried us when he came in the game."
Missouri struck for 29 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, but the Gamecocks defense -- finally with a little momentum on its side -- held and Andrew Baggett's 49-yard field goal attempt was wide left, another sign of things to come.
"It was a big boost," Clowney said of the offense's first score. "I told them, 'We're in this game now.' When they out the 7 points on those boys, I told them 'Hey, it's our turn, we've got to get the ball back to them so they can put up 7 more. And that's what we did."
On the next drive, which started with 9:32 to play in the game, the Gamecocks drove 69 yards in 11 plays but were stopped at the Missouri 2-yard-line. Elliott Fry's 20-yard field goal put the Gamecocks in striking distance with 5:03 left in the game. But they still needed a stop and a drive.
After its defense forced a three-and-out, South Carolina took over on the Missouri 37-yard-line with 3:08 to play in the game. The Gamecocks were not to be denied. Shaw completed 5 of 6 passes for 58 yards on the drive and capped it with a two-yard completion to Nick Jones to tie the game with 42 seconds to play.
The Gamecocks would still need some more Shaw magic.
Missouri got the ball first in overtime, and easily marched the 25 yards needed to score and went up 24-17.
On South Carolina's first overtime possession, Shaw found Ellington for a first down inside the Missouri 10-yard-line, but a sack and two incompletions put the Gamecocks in a dire fourth and goal from the 15 with the game on the line.
But Shaw made a perfect throw to Ellington who beat his man on a corner route -- the Tigers predominantly employ a zone defense but were in man coverage on the play -- and Ellington made the catch in the end zone to tie the game at 24. Wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. made the call, according to Spurrier.
"I thought they were going to go zone but you've got to run your route to get open," Ellington said. "That's what I did. ... Connor made a great throw."
The Gamecocks were stopped on the next drive as Fry's 40-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to give South Carolina the 27-24 lead.
After a 17-yard Missouri rush to the 8-yard-line, the Carolina defense stood strong again and forced a 24-yard field goal attempt. The kick went just left, clanged off the upright and fell harmlessly to the turf, the improbable comeback now complete as the Gamecocks rushed the field to celebrate.
After the celebration, Shaw's teammates carried him off the field.
"To come in here, on the road, night game, team that's undefeated, No. 5 team in the country, coming off a loss, to battle ourselves back in the second half, I'm just extremely proud of it," Shaw said. "We've got momentum going in, we've got to finish the next four weeks at home."
"It was do or die," Spurrier said. "We had no chance in the division unless we win this one. It just worked out tonight. That's all you can say. It was meant to be."
The 68-year-old Spurrier has about seen it all in his illustrious career as a player and coach. Asked where Shaw's performance ranked among the gutsiest performances he'd ever been a part of, Spurrier seemed at a loss for words, still trying to process all that had happened on the chilly night in the other Columbia.
"It was very good, It was very good," Spurrier said. "One of the best."
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