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South Carolina holds off Central Florida down the stretch

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- This was hardly like old times for the Ol'
Ball Coach.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had a new black visor and
the same offensive style, but he needed a fourth-down stop by his
defense with less than three minutes to go to save a 24-15 victory
over Central Florida in his return to college football Thursday
night.

"It was a tough night," Spurrier said. "But we're 1-0
and we're not going to sit around and cry about it because we
could've lost the dadgum thing."

Blake Mitchell, a sophomore making his first start, threw for
330 yards and three touchdowns for the Gamecocks (1-0).

Despite the late charge, the Golden Knights (0-1) extended the
country's longest losing streak to 16 games -- the past 12 under
former Georgia Tech and Notre Dame coach George O'Leary.

After falling behind 24-3, UCF rallied in the final quarter with
Mike Walker's 13-yard touchdown catch and John Brown's field goal.

Minutes later, the Golden Knights had a fourth-and-goal from the
1 with 2:50 left, but Kevin Smith was stopped short trying leap for
the end zone by linebacker Ricardo Hurley and defensive lineman
Ryan Brown.

Still, South Carolina could not put this one away. Punter Josh
Brown ran out of the end zone for a safety and the Golden Knights
got the ball back in the final minute on an onside kick. But time
ran out on UCF and Spurrier improved to 15-1 all-time in opening
games.

For the first three quarters, this one was all about Spurrier.
The former Florida coach was back in the Southeastern Conference
after two disappointing seasons with the Washington Redskins and
another one out of the game entirely.

The sold-out crowd of 82,753 at Williams-Brice Stadium couldn't
wait to see their newest hero take the sidelines. They packed the
State Fairgrounds across from the stadium hours before kickoff and
even cheered loudly in the middle of the pre-game prayer when
Spurrier's name was mentioned.

Spurrier said the crowd was alive and enthusiastic until the
Gamecocks bogged down in the second half. For him, it was like he'd
never left the college game.

"It felt very similar," Spurrier said, "calling plays,
getting them in there. Chucked a few deep, hit some, missed some."

It didn't take long for Spurrier to show off the "Cock-n-Fire"
offense.

Five plays into the opening drive, Mitchell faked a handoff to
Bobby Wallace, stepped back and hit Noah Whiteside in stride for a
49-yard touchdown with 12:46 left in the first quarter.

Mitchell was firing again the next time South Carolina got the
ball, finding Mike Davis on a short dump pass that went for 64
yards. Tight end Andy Boyd capped the drive with a 12-yard
touchdown catch to put the Gamecocks up 14-0 less than eight
minutes into the game.

Mitchell, who had completed only 9 of 22 passes in his career,
connected on 15 of 19 in the opening half. His 283 yards passing by
halftime surpassed the Gamecocks totals of every game but one from
last season.

Mitchell finished 18-for-23.

But this was far from the scoring machine Spurrier built over 12
seasons at Florida.

Mitchell missed a wide-open Travis Lee on South Carolina's third
series that would've easily gone for another TD.

Mitchell got a third TD, flipping a pass out to the flat to
Syvelle Newton -- last year's starting quarterback -- who went 25
yards for the score in the third quarter for a 24-3 lead.

Just when it looked like Spurrier had the Gamecocks rolling, UCF
came back.

Spurrier has said the Gamecocks are a ways out from competing
for an SEC title. They showed that at times against UCF.

After Mitchell drove the Gamecocks to UCF's 16, he was sacked
twice and South Carolina missed a 50-yard field goal try.

On another series South Carolina moved from its 8 to UCF's 5.
Again, the Gamecocks faltered in the red zone, settling for Josh
Brown's 22-yard field goal.

In the third quarter when backup quarterback Antonio Heffner
fumbled the snap, Spurrier slammed his papers to the ground in
disgust.

And things figure to get rougher next week when the Gamecocks go
to Georgia in Spurrier's first SEC game in four years. Bulldogs
fans remember all too well how Florida scored a late touchdown in a
52-17 blowout in 1995 so the Gators could be the first opponent to
hit the half-century mark at Sanford Stadium.

"We got to get better on defense, we got to get better on
offense, we got to get better everywhere," Spurrier said. "Simple
as that."