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December 29, 2006

Gamecocks win Liberty shootout with Houston

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. - South Carolina and Houston put on a record-setting offensive show for the first 30 minutes of the Liberty Bowl. The Gamecocks provided the defense when it mattered most.

Defensive end Jordin Lindsey came up with two turnovers for a defense that slowed down Houston in the second half, and South Carolina beat the Cougars 44-36 Friday for its first bowl victory under coach Steve Spurrier.

Blake Mitchell tied a bowl record by throwing four touchdown passes, Cory Boyd ran for two more TDs as the Gamecocks (8-5) finished Spurrier's second season with their best record since going 9-3 in 2001.

Houston (10-4) came in with a six-game winning streak and looking to cap its Conference USA championship season. The Cougars, who went 0-11 in 2001, had Kevin Kolb making his 50th start at quarterback and leading the nation's sixth-best offense.

Instead, the Cougars lost their seventh straight bowl game, third under coach Art Briles, and have not won a bowl since the 1980 Garden State Bowl.

Houston led 28-27 at the half, but South Carolina held the Cougars to 63 yards in the third quarter when the Gamecocks took control. They sacked Kolb three times, forced two turnovers and stopped the Cougars twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

The Cougars didn't score in the second half until Jackie Battle ran in from 3 yards out with 5:42 left. The 2-point conversion cut South Carolina's lead to 44-36.

Houston outgained South Carolina 527-512, but the Cougars managed only 200 in the second half.

With a pair of coaches known for their offensive ingenuity, this had a little of everything: four TDs in a span of 12 plays, a flea flicker for an interception, a punt on fourth-and-goal, a halfback pass and an option by Houston when backed up against its own goal line.

Each quarterback passed for more than 300 yards - a first in the 48-year history of this bowl game.

Ryan Succop kicked a 45-yard field goal into winds gusting up to 20 mph on the Gamecocks' opening drive of the second half to put South Carolina ahead to stay at 30-28. Mitchell padded the lead with a pair of 43-yard TD passes to Kenny McKinley, the last with 7:39 to go for a 44-28 lead.

Mitchell, the game's Most Valuable Player, was 19-of-29 for 323 yards.

Houston ruined its best scoring chance on the drive after Succop's field goal.

In the shotgun on third-and-goal at the 8, a bad snap went wide right of Kolb, who tried to chase down the ball and kicked it out of bounds for a penalty. That forced Houston to punt from midfield after having first-and-goal.

South Carolina's Jasper Brinkley made the tackle on Anthony Alridge on fourth-and-4 with 9:31 left at midfield short of the first down, forcing the Cougars to turn it over on downs to kill another drive.

For more coverage of the South Carolina Gamecocks, check out GamecockCentral.com.

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