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August 25, 2012

Total Recall: 2011's top plays, No. 6

As the start of the 2012 season nears, GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger takes a look back at the top plays of 2011, South Carolina's finest year. The No. 1 play from last year will be revealed on Aug. 30, USC's season-opener.

NO. 6: Help Each Other Out

The game: No. 21 Nebraska vs. No. 10 South Carolina (in Orlando, Fla.), Jan. 1

The scene: Nebraska 6, South Carolina 0, 11:50, first quarter

The cast: Defensive tackle Travian Robertson, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Nebraska kicker Brett Maher

The setup: Nebraska scored first. No surprise there. All but two other opponents had.

It was only the first quarter, so nobody was panicking - much. The Cornhuskers' offense was supposed to be pretty inefficient, with Taylor Martinez unable to pass effectively and Rex Burkhead being the only real threat. The Gamecocks' defense, one of the nation's best units, could surely handle these guys.

But Nebraska made it look shockingly easy, Martinez finding Kenny Bell for a 30-yard touchdown. After three straight bowl losses, it wasn't the start that USC wanted.

The Huskers lined up to kick the extra point. USC knew it was about to get another chance, on the ensuing possession.

But why wait until then?

The play: The snap came in and Maher lined up to kick, just like he'd done (and accomplished) 42 other times. There was a slight problem though -- the snap was bobbled a bit and Maher didn't get as much lift on the kick as he normally would.

Robertson had pushed against the line and threw his right hand up, and Maher's kick sailed right into it. Seeming pre-destined, the ball was deflected on the fly right to Gilmore, who had charged from the edge hoping to smother the kick as it was snapped, and Gilmore, on pure instinct, caught it and turned upfield.

By the time many in the stadium had begun to figure out that yes, it would count as a score, Gilmore was crossing the goal line. He was so far out in front that he could have walked backwards the final 20 yards and not been breathed on.

Instead of 7-0, it was 6-2. The momentum switched back to the shade of red, not the candy-apple red.

It was only the beginning.

The aftermath: The Huskers would take a 13-9 lead, but the Gamecocks leaped ahead to stay at halftime. USC went on to win 30-13 to complete its highest single-season win total and break a bowl winless streak.

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