As the start of the 2012 season nears, GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger takes a look back at the top plays of 2011, South Carolina's finest year. The No. 1 play from last year will be revealed on Aug. 30, USC's season-opener.
NO. 8: Denied
The game: Navy at No. 10 South Carolina, Sept. 17
The scene: South Carolina 24, Navy 21, 1:04, fourth quarter
The cast: Spur Antonio Allen, Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor
The setup: These guys just would not go away.
USC expected it. The Gamecocks knew full well that Navy, with a military mindset and a dogged offensive attack, wouldn't be satisfied with a great effort. They knew they were a hard team to stop, and they had pulled off upsets before - the Midshipmen also knew that they had hung the most ignominious defeat in the history of USC football on the Gamecocks in 1984, and that USC hasn't had a great history of winning while ranked in the Top 10.
The Gamecocks had thus far gotten 236 yards from Marcus Lattimore and 204 yards from Stephen Garcia, yet still only led by three points while attempting to salt the game away. Navy had held USC on fourth-and-2 from the 5-yard-line as the Gamecocks elected not to kick a field goal - with 5:34 on the clock, Navy could have still won with a touchdown anyway, and after a kickoff, may have had a shorter field with which to work.
The USC defense knew that Navy would run, but like many teams that play the Midshipmen, found it agonizingly painful to try and stop. The Middies kept running and pitching and pitching and running, driving the Gamecocks' defenders crazy, but they managed to keep Navy pinned in its half of the field and forced Proctor to throw to keep his team's hopes alive.
Proctor, rusty at passing and definitely not used to having to pass to win, threw two straight incompletes to set up fourth-and-7 as the clock neared 1:00. Proctor had hit a 16-yard pass on fourth-and-15 for just his fifth completion of the day on the same drive, so as he took the snap and waited for his men to get open, the Williams-Brice Stadium crowd once again was fearing the worst.
The play: Proctor stood as his men crossed the Block C logo at midfield. One peeled off to the right as split back John Howell went one-on-one in deep coverage.
Whether someone ran the wrong route or Proctor just threw a bad pass - each very likely, as Navy only broke out the pass in emergencies - Proctor's ball sailed nowhere near either receiver. It was going into a crowd of five garnet shirts. Howell knew it was bad and broke off his route, hastily backtracking to try and make a play.
Allen beat him to it.
The Gamecocks' playmaking spur picked off the errant ball and alertly fell down immediately, knowing full well that even an attempt at a return - even for him - could prove disastrous. Allen fell on the 45 and covered the ball as the referee signaled him down, before rising to accept the congratulations of his teammates. Navy was finally down for the count.
The aftermath: USC ran out the clock, Lattimore adding 10 yards to his total for a career-high 246, and the Gamecocks improved to 3-0. Nobody in the country had faced three more different offenses than USC had in its first three games, but the Gamecocks had found a way to get past all of them.
Allen continuing a mind-boggling run. In six straight regular-season games, beginning with the Troy contest from 2010 and finishing against Auburn in 2011, Allen had a takeaway in each game.
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