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Vanderbilt rallies to scuttle South Carolina

Sep 5, 2008 - 5:26 AM NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- When the Southeastern Conference see-saw finally stopped, Vanderbilt was on top of South Carolina on Thursday.

The Commodores took advantage of critical mistakes by the 24th-ranked Gamecocks to score three straight second-half touchdowns en route to a 24-17 victory.

Vanderbilt (2-0) netted 50 yards on offense and trailed 10-3 at halftime after Ryan Succop kicked a 41-yard field goal for the Gamecocks on the last play.

"They knew they didn't play well," Commodores coach Bobby Johnson said. "They were angry. I just had to open the door."

Two key plays turned the game in the Commodores' favor in the third quarter. First, Vanderbilt's punt hit Gamecocks blocker Addison Williams and was recovered by the Commodores.

On the next play, Chris Nickson found Brandon Barden for a 30-yard touchdown pass. Barden is a transfer from Virginia Tech, who left the school after the tragic shootings that left 32 dead.

A blocked field goal set the Commodores up again, and Nickson scored on a 1-yard run with less than four minutes left in the period to cap a five-play, 57-yard drive.

"Adversity was there and our team came through," said Nickson, who was 8-for-13 for 90 yards and one touchdown. "I told them this is the time where you grow up.

"You can be dogs or winners, and we are winners tonight."

The Commodores, who ended a streak of 10 straight home conference-opening losses, iced the upset in the fourth quarter when Jared Hawkins scored on a 13-yard run to cap a 69-yard drive with 9:28 left in the game.

South Carolina (1-1) made it interesting by taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 55 yards, capped when Chris Smelley found Freddie Brown with a 5-yard TD pass.

The victory was Vanderbilt's second straight against Steve Spurrier following 14 straight losses to the coach and its first home upset of a ranked team since a 31-9 victory over then-No. 25 Mississippi in 1992.

"We were ready to play. We just got our tails kicked," Spurrier said. "We don't have any excuses. They just beat us. We didn't play very well."

South Carolina had taken a 7-0 lead with nine minutes left in the first quarter when Smelley found Kenny McKinley with a 19-yard scoring strike to cap an 80-yard drive. McKinley later went out of the game with a leg injury.

The Commodores had trouble moving the ball. They did capitalize on an interception of Smelley in the second quarter by Reshard Langford, who returned the ball 33 yards. Vanderbilt drove deep into Gamecocks' territory but had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Bryant Hahnfeldt that cut the deficit to four.

Succop got those points back, kicking a 41-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.