AP Top 25 College Football
COLUMBIA, S.C. - This time Tennessee had enough fight to survive its crippling third-quarter mistakes.
This time the Vols could look up in the early moments of the fourth quarter and see encouraging news on the scoreboard.
This time they had the late momentum against a ranked SEC opponent.
And it was all gone in 60 seconds.
That was the time lapse on the Williams-Brice Stadium clock Saturday between upstart Tennessee tying the game 24-24 and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery untying it with a dramatic 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Then freshman Marcus Lattimore chewed up yardage as the 17th-ranked Gamecocks added another score to pad their victory margin to 38-24 before a crowd of 79,336 on a gorgeous fall afternoon.
South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC) remains in first place in the East Division race to Atlanta.
For the Vols (2-6, 0-5), life at the other end of the East standings meant absorbing a fourth consecutive loss.
"It's impossible to have a worse start to the third quarter,'' said UT coach Derek Dooley.
"But to the team's credit, we showed a little resolve to tie the score.''
Hard to argue with that assessment.
In keeping with its usual script, Tennessee headed into halftime in good shape. In this case, the Vols forged a 10-10 tie late in the second quarter on Matt Simms' 12-yard TD pass to Luke Stocker.
Then they got the ball to start the second half. If the usual script was to be continued, cringe time was coming.
Sure enough, on the second snap, Simms was sacked and fumbled.
South Carolina recovered at the 27 and needed six plays for quarterback Stephen Garcia to sneak in from the 1 for a 17-10 lead.
Dooley, having also watched Simms fumble on a sack to squander a promising opportunity in the first half, pulled the junior in favor of freshman Tyler Bray.
But Bray's second snap was even worse than Simms' had been.
He threw a pass to his right that defensive end Devin Taylor intercepted and returned 24 yards for a touchdown.
"We thought we had a good call,'' Dooley said. "They dropped the end out there. (Bray) is a true freshman. He'd never seen that before.''
Boom! 24-10. Two mistakes, two touchdowns in a span of 50 seconds.
In short, another second half going down the tubes in a hurry.
However, as Dooley said, the Vols had some resolve this day.
That included Dooley, who helped regain momentum by calling a fake punt that Chad Cunningham converted with a 15-yard scamper for a first down.
One play later, Bray hit Denarius Moore on a perfect 30-yard touchdown strike.
"I thought it was a great call,'' said Stocker of the fake punt, "and it was huge in the ballgame.''
It was, making it a 24-17 game with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
Bray and Moore weren't finished, either. They connected on a 62-yard bomb, after which Bray hit a diving Gerald Jones for a 17-yard touchdown.
With 13:17 to play, it was 24-24.
With 12:17 to play, Jeffery, the SEC's leading receiver, was completing a dash through the Tennessee secondary after catching a short Garcia pass to restore the Gamecocks to the lead.
"We tie it up, we're feeling good,'' said Dooley. "We had good energy.
"We've got 'em third-and-10. We've got to get off the field but we didn't do it.
"That's what great players do. In the fourth quarter, who took over? Number 1 (Jeffery) and number 21 (Lattimore).
"That's what impact, game-changing players do.''
Down 31-24, Tennessee had plenty of time to answer again but this time the Vols had depleted their supply of resolve.
South Carolina's sixth sack of the day eventually led to a Cunningham punt. The Gamecocks caught a huge break when the punt hit a South Carolina player but was recovered by the Gamecocks at their 8.
With eight minutes to play, Lattimore did the heavy lifting on a 92-yard drive with a 39-yard run followed by a 19-yard run.
"You can't make mistakes on good players like that,'' said UT linebacker LaMarcus Thompson, addressing the damage done in the fourth quarter by Jeffery and Lattimore.
Garcia snuck it the final yard and it was 38-24 with 3:28 to play.
Lattimore finished with 184 rushing yards as the Gamecocks piled up 435 total yards.
The surprise was that UT answered with 404 yards and 24 points, both highs in five SEC game this season.
"If we scored our standard 13 points we'd have gotten run out of the stadium,'' said Dooley.
"When you can match 'em a little bit, you're still in it.''
Without the four turnovers and six sacks, the Vols might have done more than match 'em.
Bray was 9-of-15 for 159 yards passing. Simms, who didn't return after his second fumble, was 10-of-13 for 153.
The favorite target of each was Moore, who had six catches for 228 yards, the second-best receiving game ever by a Vol.
"Tennessee played tough,'' said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier who now claims three of the Gamecocks' four all-time victories against Tennessee.
"We both messed up a couple of scoring chances. We were fortunate to get the win.''
Tennessee's next chance to get a win is Saturday night at Memphis.