COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Shawn Elliott saw the same thing play out Saturday as it did the previous two weeks: A slow start, a dramatic comeback and ultimately, disappointment.
It happened a third straight time against No. 11 Florida as the Gamecocks' fourth-quarter rally from 17-points down fell short in a 24-14 defeat.
"Just like I have the past few games, I thought we were going to have an opportunity to take the last drive down there and have a potential game-winning score," South Carolina's interim coach said. "But as it turned out the last two weeks, we didn't have the juice to finish and win the football game."
In this one, South Carolina had rallied from 17-0 down to 17-14 in the final period and had Florida facing third-and-8 near midfield. That's when Gators tailback Kelvin Taylor broke off a 53-yard run to the Gamecocks 1. Taylor scored on the next play to restore Florida's double-digit lead with two minutes remaining.
The Gamecocks (3-7, 1-7 Southeastern Conference) finished their worst SEC season since they went 0-8 in the league in 1999, Lou Holtz's debut season. It also guaranteed their first losing season since going 5-7 in 2003, also with Holtz in charge.
Elliott acknowledged South Carolina would've needed a remarkable effort this fall to stay even with last year's 7-6 team.
"Realistically, I didn't think we had the horses to go make the run," Elliott said. "I don't know if anybody can sit up here and say we did."
It appears South Carolina's season — and last chance for Elliott to make a major impact on his job chances — will come down to its rivalry game with No. 1 Clemson in two weeks.
Florida used a fast start and a big play at the end to hold off the Gamecocks.
Jordan Cronkrite had a 3-yard TD run and a 41-yard scoring pass from Treon Harris in the first half. Kelvin Taylor's 53-yard run on third-and-8 with the Gators up just 17-14 sealed things for Florida.
The win keeps Florida (9-1, 7-1 SEC, No. 11 CFP) in the College Football Playoff mix as a potential one-loss SEC champion. The Gators, 11th in the CFP ranking, clinched their spot in next month's title game with their victory over Vanderbilt last week.
That, too, came down to successful, late execution, the Gators getting the go-ahead field goal with 2:22 left in a 9-7 win.
"There was never any panic," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "They somehow figured out a way to sweep the (SEC) East."
Don't bet against Florida finding their way into the playoffs.
"We're not looking ahead," nose tackle Caleb Brantley said. "We're not looking at the next game. We're just worried about the moment."
The Gators finish up with Florida Atlantic and rival Florida State before heading to the Georgia Dome.
Florida appeared to have this wrapped up much earlier, up 17-0 heading to the fourth quarter, with the defense having allowed only 44 yards.
But South Carolina rallied with a throwback 17-yard touchdown from receiver Pharoh Cooper to quarterback Perry Orth, followed by Orth's 38-yard scoring throw to Cooper moments later that cut the lead to 17-14 with 4:49 remaining.
Florida's struggling offense — 10th in the league in yards gained — presented the Gamecocks a chance to spark up an attack that had improved in close defeats at Texas A&M and Tennessee the previous two weeks.
But it was the Gators who dominated things early on with a pair of methodical TD drives to go up 14-0 at the half.
McElwain said Cronkrite hurt his foot late in the contest and his condition will be looked at next week.
The Gamecocks finished with 189 yards of offense, 145 of that coming in the final period. They lost their third straight and fell to 1-3 under interim coach Shawn Elliott, who took over last month after Steve Spurrier resigned.
Spurrier, the coaching victories leader at both schools, did not attend.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org