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Buckeyes’ big gamble salvages victory for Gamecocks

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TAMPA, Fla. — In a game filled with gambles, the final one by Ohio State coach Jim Tressel didn't pan out.

Having worked their way back from a 28-0 deficit to tie it in the fourth quarter behind Steve Bellisari's passing, the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes had the ball on their 18 with 1:12 left — with a chance to settle for overtime.

But because Bellisari was 6-of-6 on Ohio State's last drive, leading to the tying touchdown, Tressel didn't want to waste the momentum. So he went for it all, calling for a deep pass.

"When I saw that ball go long, they'd completed so many, I said, 'Good Lord, not again,' " South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said.

But this time, cornerback Sheldon Brown was waiting to intercept the ball, and he returned it 37 yards to Ohio State's 29.

Four plays and two Buckeyes timeouts later, sophomore Daniel Weaver kicked a 42-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar and saved the 14th-ranked Gamecocks (9-3) from a huge embarrassment with a 31-28 victory Tuesday.

It was the Gamecocks' second consecutive Outback Bowl win over Ohio State (7-5).

"You can dare to go after things or you can not," Tressel said. "Our feeling was it was either going to be something for us or nothing. It was my call, and it was the wrong one."

Holtz was expecting overtime, especially when Jonathan Wells started the Buckeyes' last series with a 1-yard run.

Brown figured that, too. "Absolutely, I couldn't believe it" when the ball was thrown, said South Carolina's All-American corner.

Brown broke across the field after the catch with a twisting run to set up the winning field goal. Weaver's kick slipped through for his first game-winning boot, and he was instantly mobbed on the field.

"I thought it was short," said South Carolina quarterback Phil Petty, the game's MVP, who threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns. "But he had it lined up right."

Bellisari hadn't played since his November arrest and suspension on drunken driving charges, and he was rusty for three quarters, going 8-of-19 for 118 yards.

His 2-yard keeper for a touchdown closed the third period and seemed to spark the Buckeyes.

"We were at the lowest we've been all year when we were down 28-0," said Bellisari, who was 21-of-35 for a career-high 320 yards.