COLUMBIA -- No bragging rights or bowl invitations on the line here, just the right to avoid the dubious distinction of having your name written in blood.
The winners go home, the losers go to the American Red Cross and succumb to the mercy of the needle. Such were the orders set forth by South Carolina coach Lou Holtz for the Gamecocks' spring game Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Aw, man, I don't even want to talk about that," said running back Nate Gary, whose Black team was due a bloodletting for its 38-31 loss to its White counterpart. "I've got blood all over my pants from this game, so I've already given a lot. But I guess I've got to do what I've got to do and give some more."
The Gamecocks offered their expected dose of stumbles, bumbles and fumbles, coughing the ball up a combined four times and tossing two interceptions, as the 62-year-old Holtz closed the book on the first segment of his era in Columbia.
"We had a couple of turnovers that were critical," Holtz said. "You can't do those things and win."
The stadium wasn't the boiling cauldron of anticipation that is sure to envelop this city come fall, but the exhibition seemed enough to stoke the fires of a record crowd of 19,200 followers still itching to salve the wounds of last season's 1-10 debacle.
The masses saw senior running back Boo Williams rumble for 128 yards on 19 carries for the White team, which amassed 227 yards on the ground.
"Offense is rhythm, and for the first time this spring we really got into a rhythm in the second half," said Holtz, who spent the game sequestered in the coaches' box high atop the stadium.
Said Williams: "I made a lot of good decisions. Sometimes, the hole wasn't there, and I bounced out and got 10 or 12 yards."
Holtz spotted the second team a 31-point lead, an advantage the first-stringers eventually matched on Kyle Crabb`s 25-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter, then surmounted when fullback Antione Nesmith bulled in from 6 yards out with less than five minutes remaining.
Early on, the White appeared poised for a hasty "comeback" from the imposed deficit after Williams capped off two drives with scoring runs of 3 and 14 yards to cut the lead to 31-14 midway through the first period.
After a taut second quarter, the White got another score from a most unlikely source when outside linebacker John Abraham scooped up Crabb's fumble and barreled 72 yards for a score that cut the deficit to 31-21.
Now, Holtz looks anxiously to the summer, a period he deems the most critical for the development of a young and inexperienced team.
"What`s important now is that we have great improvement over the summer," said Holtz, whose team resumes drills in August. "We must come back a lot
better football team in the fall than we were this spring."
NOTES: The Gamecocks escaped any serious injuries during the two-hour game. ... Saturday's record spring attendance broke the previous mark of 15,500, set in 1987. ... Starting quarterback Phil Petty sat out the second half to shake off lingering effects of the flu, which held him out of last Tuesday's practice. Petty completed 10 of his 19 attempts for 161 yards and accounted for his offense's two first-half scores. ... Redshirt freshman Keith Matkins was given an extensive look at the No. 2 quarterback spot but struggled, going 3-for-6 for 18 yards.