Shane Beamer stood in the tunnel separating the visiting locker room at Memorial Stadium and glanced out toward the playing surface, his hands on his hips and his lower lip trembling ever so slightly.
A sea of garnet clashed with orange and purple as students from both South Carolina and Clemson clambered over the railings and onto the playing surface.
With a smirk, Beamer bobbed his head, walked 12 steps with a state trooper at his side, and met his mother, Cheryl, for a postgame embrace just off the turf.
The hug for Shane and Cheryl lasted six seconds. South Carolina’s 31-30 win over No. 8 Clemson on Saturday will last for decades.
“We were the feel-good story in college football last week,” Beamer said, referencing the blowout of then-No. 5 Tennessee. “But nobody thought we were good enough to win this game. We were the team that just kind of caught lightning in a bottle last week, and ‘no way they can come back and do it again.’ ”
Beamer has made a point to cherish moments like Saturday. He’s right to do so. Days like this don’t come around often at South Carolina. After all, the Gamecocks’ all-time record rests just above .500.
But two wins over Top 10 teams in as many weeks? That’s different.
South Carolina (8-4, 4-4 SEC) headed into Saturday’s game at Clemson (10-2, 8-0 ACC) as two-touchdown underdogs. The Tigers had won the last seven games in the series. One team was ranked in the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings. The other made a brief appearance in The Associated Press poll before being trounced by *checks notes* Missouri.
But Saturday, the only things that died in Death Valley were Clemson’s hopes at a playoff shot and a nation-leading 40-game home winning streak.
“We just did our own College Football Playoff,” Beamer quipped, “and came out pretty dang successful.”
As it did in last week’s rout of Tennessee, it was golden-armed signal-caller Spencer Rattler who helped the Gamecocks play giant-killer for the second time in seven days.
Rattler wasn’t quite UT-unconscious, but he navigated through adversity in a way he hasn’t all fall. His first of two interceptions was taken 35 yards to the house by Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter for the game’s opening score. His second, a goal-line throw from the 2-yard line, cost the Gamecocks a touchdown that would’ve pulled them within two points heading into the half.
Watching Clemson defensive back R.J. Mickens celebrate the second pick of the afternoon, the ex-Oklahoma quarterback slammed his right hand into the turf.
Boy, did Rattler respond.
He completed 13 of his final 17 throws for 153 yards. His 72-yard touchdown set up what would stand as a game-winning 35-yard Mitch Jeter field goal.
“All these Clemson fans were talking mess behind our bench,” Rattler said, smirking. “They didn’t say anything after.”
Rattler’s heroic effort was again matched by an upstart defense that has had its share of not-so-memorable moments in 2022.
One year after Clemson running back Will Shipley dashed over, through and around virtually this exact same South Carolina unit, the Gamecocks held the Tigers to an inefficient 336 total yards — over 100 of which came on a pair of first-half plays.
Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who’s endured much of the same criticisms Rattler has experienced in his own career, looked the part of the signal-caller Clemson fans have called on to be replaced by five-star freshman Cade Klubnik.
Uiagalelei was erratic from the start, struggling to find a comfort as South Carolina’s pass-rush terrorized Clemson’s offensive line. The California native finished the day 8 of 29 (28%). Fifty-nine of his 99 yards passing came on a second-quarter connection with Beaux Collins. He completed just two other throws for 10 yards or more.
“I love it. Thank you, thank you Clemson for everything,” said South Carolina cornerback Marcellas Dial, who picked off Uigalelei in Saturday’s fourth quarter and was targeted much of the day. “Thank you for everything.”
Rattler chomped on a cigar atop the cement steps just below the visiting locker room at Memorial Stadium as the Gamecocks celebrated their long-awaited victory. The tobacco-filled confections aren’t a normal part of post-South Carolina-Clemson festivities. But nothing about Saturday’s USC win was normal.
The fourth-year junior, who feels increasingly likely to enter the NFL Draft after his last two performances, enlisted the help of undergraduate equipment manager Connor Leoni during Friday’s walk-through. “(Connor) get us some cigars because we’re going to win,” Rattler said. “I play well in November.”
Leoni did just that, finding a smoke shop near the Greenville Marriott, where the Gamecocks stayed on Friday night. He bought eight of them. They cost just $3.
Those eight stogies were smoked to buds in a matter of minutes following the win. They created a smokey haze and a staunch smell of tobacco in and around the South Carolina locker room as the Gamecocks celebrated with fervor.
“They were like $3” Leoni joked. “But a post-win stogie is a post-win stogie.”
Saturday, Beamer’s South Carolina squad rolled Clemson in a game few, if any outside that locker room saw coming. A bowl game, likely in Florida, is coming next.
That ire in the wake of a dud at Florida two weeks ago? That’s turned to ashes. Some how, some way, South Carolina appears to be here to stay.
Smoke ‘em, if you’ve got ‘em, as the saying goes — and the Gamecocks have plenty of “ ‘em.”