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Lito Sheppard returned a punt 57 yards for a TD in the second quarter.

Saturday November 11, 2000Gators beat South Carolina 41-21, Win SEC East

Gainesville, FL

Lito Sheppard returned a punt 57 yards for a TD in the second quarter.

Jesse Palmer came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes as the fifth ranked Florida Gators defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 41-21 to claim the SEC East title.

The Gators scored 38 unanswered points to survive two blocked punts for touchdowns by the Gamecocks. South Carolina blocked back-to-back Alan Rhine punts and recovered both for touchdowns to open up a 21-3 first half lead. But the Gators stormed back after senior Jesse Palmer replaced Rex Grossman at quarterback.

Palmer responded with touchdown passes to Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. The Palmer-to-Gaffney hookup went for 70 yards to cut the South Carolina lead to 21-17. The Gators went ahead for good late in the first half when a Palmer pass deflected into the hands of offensive guard Thomas Moody, who took it in the end zone for a touchdown. Palmer was pleased to come through in his final home game as a Gator.

"It was kind of eerie coming into the stadium for the last time," said Palmer. "With such big implications for a game, the seniors stuck together and the football team really hung in there. We were able to come back." Palmer completed 15 of 27 passes for 250 yards and the three touchdowns.

Lito Sheppard capped the wild first half with a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown with seconds left on the clock. The Gators took a 31-21 lead into halftime. Florida scored on a 39-yard Jeff Chandler field goal and a short Earnest Graham touchdown run in the second half to finish off the victory. The Gator defense kept the Gamecocks off the board after they posted 21 first quarter points. South Carolina was stopped twice on fourth and goal in the fourth quarter.

"We have been a pretty good second half team since the Mississippi State game," said Gator coach Steve Spurrier in his postgame interview. "I'm really proud of the mental attitude the players are coming to the ballpark with, and that's playing the whole 60 minutes no matter what happens."

The Gators clinch their seventh SEC East title and improve to 9-1, 7-1 in the SEC. Next week, its the annual showdown with the Florida State Seminoles. Kickoff is at 8 pm from Tallahassee on ABC.

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