Navy falters late vs. No. 10 South Carolina, 24-21

Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor, center, is sacked by South Carolina's Travian Robertson, right.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Minutes after Saturday's game ended, Navy linebacker Kwesi Mitchell spoke in measured tones as he explained how the defense deserved a larger share of the blame for the outcome.

His coach, Ken Niumatalolo, said the team did not come to Williams-Brice Stadium for a moral victory. It left with no victory at all.

Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore tore through the Navy defense for a career-high 246 yards, and the Midshipmen fell, 24-21, to No. 10 South Carolina before an announced 78,807. The game was tight throughout, with three lead changes and two ties, and neither team pulled ahead by more than seven points.

And in such a close, back-and-forth game, Navy fell just short.

"It's heartbreaking," Mitchell said. "We really came in. We wanted to win, and we knew we could if we would have taken care of small things.

"We didn't give [the offense] enough defense. We didn't give them enough opportunities."

The final opportunity ended with an interception thrown by Kriss Proctor interception in the final minutes, moments after he had kept the Midshipmen's hopes alive with a fluttering 15-yard pass to wide receiver Matt Aiken on fourth-and-15.

Navy (2-1) ran all vertical routes on its final play, but the Gamecocks' Antonio Allen closed whatever window Proctor saw.

"You just drop back and just try to squeeze a pass in there -- you know, desperation," Proctor said. "Unluckily, it got picked."

That interception ended nearly 59 minutes of the teams' trading scores, long drives and big stops.

Navy took one-touchdown leads twice in the first half, and twice the Gamecocks (3-0) answered with touchdown runs by Lattimore. On the drive after Lattimore's second score, Proctor could not connect with slotback John Howell on a pass Niumatalolo later pointed to as a missed chance.

South Carolina eventually stopped the drive on downs, and Jay Wooten kicked a 48-yard field goal to close the half.

On the first drive of the third quarter, the Gamecocks drove into the Navy red zone, but quarterback Stephen Garcia threw an ill-advised, fluttering pass that Mitchell intercepted.

Navy went 91 yards to take a 21-17 lead on a 2-yard run by fullback Alex Teich, but South Carolina answered as they did all night: with more Lattimore.

He touched the ball 11 times in a 15-play drive and slashed in from 7 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Lattimore's rushing total was only 28 short of the output of Navy's entire ground game, which came into Saturday as the most prolific in the country. The sophomore back touched the ball on 41 of the offense's 69 plays.

"Like everyone says, he's a great back," said South Carolina native and Midshipmen rover Tra'ves Bush, who had 12 tackles and forced a fumble. "He kept you on your toes. You can't really drop back in pass coverage because you've got to worry about him. If Garcia scrambles, he was always ready for the pass."

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he figured, "The best way to try to win the game was just to hand it to him and keep blocking."

One the other side, the Navy defense gave up one more score than it could afford. It allowed South Carolina to convert on five of seven third downs, including a third-and-15 on the way to South Carolina's second touchdown.

Navy did not force a punt, and both teams were aggressive on fourth downs. Navy had only two punts, one by Proctor out of an offensive formation, and the first true punt came 49 minutes into the game.

South Carolina finished with 458 total yards, 204 through the air.

The Midshipmen's vaunted triple-option offense found early success running to the outside, but eventually the Gamecocks' talented defense began setting up roadblocks in those lanes. Navy ended the game with 274 yards, only 82 after halftime.

But in the small interview room deep inside the stadium, the Midshipmen could focus only on the plays that got away.

Niumatalolo lamented a missed pass in the first half and a few big conversions his defense gave up. Teich even said he thought Navy was the better team but could not make the necessary plays down the stretch.

"I'm proud of our young men; I thought they played hard," Niumatalolo said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough."