'Truly unstoppable:' How South Carolina football will remember field storming vs Tennessee
COLUMBIA — The remnants of a euphoric celebration were scattered across the field at Williams-Brice Stadium long after the thousands of fans who descended upon it had cleared.
The hedges that line the student section were reduced to sticks, pulled apart to serve as souvenirs from one of the biggest upsets in South Carolina football history. A black lace bra was abandoned on the Gamecocks' sideline. Empty shooters that once held Fireball, Crown Royal and 99 Brand vodka littered the end zones.
South Carolina (7-4, 4-4 SEC), which scored just six points against Florida one week earlier, rebounded in spectacular fashion on senior night Saturday, dominating No. 5 Tennessee (9-2, 5-2) by a score of 63-38 in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 80,000. For fifth-year wide receiver Josh Vann, who scored two touchdowns in his final home game with the Gamecocks, the moment literally felt like a dream.
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"On Tuesday night I had a dream we were going to beat these guys," Vann said. "In the middle of that field with those fans, I just looked back and I'm getting tapped on my head and everybody's grabbing me. It's an amazing feeling ... We're like celebrities right now."
Vann said he could barely move as the sea of students swarmed the team, clamoring to give players a congratulatory pat on the helmet or take a picture with them. The wide receiver said he posed for several students' BeReal photos — even though he had never heard of the viral social media app.
Once he fought his way out of the adoring crowd though, Vann was on a mission to find the people he most wanted to celebrate with.
"Every time I went that way, I got dragged back this way. It was crazy the amount of people that ran up to me ... but then I got the chance to go in the stands," Vann said. "My mom and dad were up there and we just hugged it out for about five minutes just cherishing the moment."
Quarterback Spencer Rattler basked in the glory of his nearly perfect performance as fans rushed the field. The Oklahoma transfer finished 30-of-37 passing for a career-high 438 yards and six touchdowns. He hit 12 different receivers and never turned the ball over.
"We know how good of a quarterback Spencer is, and I told him just keep going. It's going to show up," wide receiver Dakereon Joyner said. "I'm so happy for him that he got a chance to remind the world who he really is. He is him, and he's going to continue to flourish. We've got his back tremendously."
Rattler's biggest competition this season has been against the expectations. His name carries weight: the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect coming out of high school, a former Heisman Trophy contender, the guy who lost his job to a freshman at Oklahoma.
In his first year with the Gamecocks, Rattler has rarely taken full ownership of his new offense. Against Tennessee, the superstar found his swagger again.
"This is my favorite game of all time," Rattler said. "That was probably the best I've ever felt in a game just feeling unstoppable with my guys out there. We felt truly unstoppable. The confidence that game just gave us is just amazing."
Coach Shane Beamer, in his second year at the helm of the program, was an assistant at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier the last time fans stormed the field at Williams-Brice. It was 2010, and the No. 19 Gamecocks upset No. 1 Alabama 35-21.
"That was a lot of years of our fan base waiting to get to do that," Beamer said. "It was pretty cool to be a part of it (when we beat Alabama) and it was really, really special to be a part of tonight. We've got some awesome recruits in that locker room that are celebrating this with us as well. As we continue to build this program ... we're going to have a lot of nights like this in Columbia."
Beamer's team has not had an easy year, from last week's embarrassment at The Swamp to a bizarre 23-10 loss to Missouri at home two weeks prior that snapped a four-game win streak. But under the lights in a game dedicated to his seniors — all of whom were recruited by the former coaching staff — Beamer saw the potential of the program that he believed in all along come to life on the field for the first time.
"I've been saying it every week and y'all think I'm crazy, but we've got a good football team and we showed it tonight," he said. "Good football teams have bad nights and bad stretches ... but this group is frickin' awesome. This is a new Carolina. We get to write the story. I know what that team is about in that locker room, and I'm so proud of them and happy for them. I could keep going for hours."