South Carolina football: 20th anniversary of Erik Kimrey’s famed fade pass

On this day 20 years ago, South Carolina football got a boost from an unlikely hero.

The 2000 college football season was one of great achievement for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Under legendary coach Lou Holtz’s guidance, the team experienced on of the top single-season turnarounds in NCAA history. South Carolina, in the midst of a 21-game losing streak, would flip the script on its way to an eight-win season. The year culminated with a thrashing of Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.

In a season full of great moments, one in particular stands out, and it happened to occur 20 years ago to the day. After starting the season 3-0, and knocking off a ninth-ranked Georgia squad along the way, the Gamecocks marched into Williams-Brice Stadium to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs entered the matchup undefeated as well, led by head coach Jackie Sherrill. They were hoping to end South Carolina’s story tale start, and looked poised to do so late in the fourth quarter. That’s when the Gamecocks got an unexpected play from an unlikely contributor.

Trailing 19-13 with less than five minutes remaining in the game, Gamecock starting quarterback Phil Petty dropped back to pass on a third and long. His attempt fell incomplete, and he was slow to get up after taking a shot from a Mississippi State defender. Unable to return, coach Holtz called the number of seldom used reserve Erik Kimrey. The rest remains entrenched in Gamecock football folklore.

As it goes, Holtz walked over to Kimrey and asked his new signal caller what he wanted to run. Kimrey answered, “Let’s run 18.” Play 18 happened to be a fade route designed for star receiver Jermale Kelly. Kimrey ran onto the field, took the fourth down snap, and lofted a beautiful pass into the Columbia sky. The ball seemed to stay in the air for an eternity, but it eventually fell into Kelly’s hands, who quickly crossed the goal line for the go-ahead score.

South Carolina’s defense would force a turnover to secure a 23-19 Gamecock victory. Kimrey was a hero. I was at the game, and though I can’t recall whether or not the field goal posts at Williams-Brice Stadium came down for a fourth consecutive week, I remember the play like it was yesterday.

Kimrey would go on to start the next week against Alabama, but he’d end up being replaced by Petty in the second half. He finished his career in Columbia as a 56% passer with two touchdown passes and three interceptions. Despite his underwhelming numbers, he remains one of the most renowned Gamecock quarterbacks in program history.

Kimrey now coaches high school football at Hammond School in Columbia, where he’s led the Hawks to 11 state titles. His most recent team included South Carolina signees Jordan Burch and Alex Huntley, as well as Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp’s son, Jackson.

Next: Realistic expectations for Gamecock football