In a study of late-game coaching approaches, Clark decided to run down the clock at the end of regulation to set up a gimme field goal and send the game to overtime. Once there, Hatcher went for a do-or-die two-point conversion that gave the Racers a 35-34 win, handing the Gamecocks their first loss of the season.
“I just didn’t think I could do it to my kids as hard they battled to get back in it,” Clark said Sunday.
Overcoming several mistakes, the Gamecocks (4-1) rallied from 10-point first-quarter and halftime deficits and a three-point hole in the fourth quarter to force overtime for a record-tying third straight week. After the game Clark called the effort “courageous.”
The Gamecocks had a chance to win it in regulation. They faced third down at the Murray 8 inside 20 seconds with a time-out in hand, but instead of taking a shot at the end zone, which the Racers surely would’ve defended, Clark opted to let the clock run before calling time with four seconds left.
Griffin Thomas kicked a 25-yard field goal to extend the game.
It was planned that way, unlike the admitted mismanagement of time at the end of the first half at Alabama State that cost the Gamecocks a touchdown. Clark ran all the scenarios and dangers in his head before making the call.
“We just knew what we were going to do,” he said. “Maybe if we had no turnovers we might have felt a little stronger about it … but for whatever anybody said there was never any doubt when you’re about the 11 (where the sequence started).
“Maybe you get one more play, maybe you get a couple shots at the end zone, but you’ve got a chance to turn it over. Maybe that’s a defensive mentality, I don’t know. That was a no-brainer to me. I didn’t think it was a decision, not from the 11, and when you’ve got but one time out.”
It’s not like the Gamecocks are ultra-conservative. Clark called a successful fake punt in the game and the Gamecocks threw 38 passes among their record offensive 98 plays.
Whenever he decides to roll the dice, it will all be based on “how I felt we were” in the game.
At the time of Saturday’s decision, Clark was feeling the Gamecocks had all the momentum heading into overtime. It showed in the extra period when DaMarcus James needed only two runs to cover the 25 yards to score the opening touchdown.
That ease also led Clark to figure Hatcher was going for two after the Racers scored their matching touchdown – with the help of two fourth-down conversions.
On the game-winning play, Murray quarterback Maikhail Miller rolled out to his right and found Jeremy Harness wide open after the Racers picked the JSU defensive backs.
“When you’re on the road against a team that’s ranked higher than you ... why not one play to win it?” Hatcher said. “Fortunately for us we executed the play well and won the ballgame.”
And it left the Gamecocks to pick up the pieces. They play their first conference road game this week at UT Martin.
“A loss just magnifies every negative you have,” Clark said. “Maybe it makes us better. Sometimes you learn more from the loss than the win because it magnifies it.
“I don’t like teaching from a loss, I hate everything that goes with it (but) sometimes that’s your best learning experience. That’s what life is. You learn from the heartache and things that go wrong; you’re like, ‘Man, I don’t want to do that again.’ Not that we won’t go through another loss, but you sure don’t want to.”