Jordan Cronkrite, Kelvin Taylor help Florida hold off South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Coach Jim McElwain is glad his 11th-ranked Florida Gators are learning to succeed -- by trying very hard.
The latest example came Saturday when the SEC East champions held off a South Carolina rally for a 24-14 victory.
"There's something special about that because wins are hard to come by," McElwain said. "I'm proud for our guys and proud for Gator fans out there who didn't think much of this season, probably."
Now, the Gators are thinking big.
Jordan Cronkrite had a 3-yard TD run and a 41-yard scoring pass from Treon Harirs in the first half.
The win keeps Florida (9-1, 7-1 SEC) 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.
This time, it took Kelvin Taylor's 53-yard run to the Gamecock 1 on third-and-8 with two minutes left and South Carolina trailing 17-14. Taylor shut the door on the Gamecocks a play later with his touchdown run.
"There was never any panic," 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 (3-7, 1-7) 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.
Taylor finished with 101 yards on 19 carries. Harris threw for 256 yards and a touchdown.
Even with the victory, the Gators likely won't earn backers for a spot in college football's final four with the spotty offense and late defensive breakdown. McElwain says that's a mistake.
"Right now, they refuse to be denied," he said.
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.
Harris led a 15-play sequence where Florida converted four third downs and a fourth down on the way to Cronkrite's 3-yard touchdown run.
Florida was at it again the next time it got the ball with a 12-play, seven minute drive that ended with Cronkrite's 41-yard TD catch.
McElwain said Cronkrite hurt his foot late in the contest and his condition will be looked at next week.
Florida outgained South Carolina 200-53 and held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than their opponent in that half.
"It always comes down to that last play or that last quarter and we just can't finish," South Carolina's Cooper said.
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.