Fire Ants and Black Magic: The 1984 Gamecock Football Season

The end of the 1984 season marked a period in South Carolina history that Gamecock fans were especially proud to talk about. After Coach Joe Morrison’s first Carolina team went 5-6 in ‘83, the 1984 team took flame to the record books and finished the regular season 10-1. Back porches, outdoor garages, barber shops, the golf course, and especially grandpa’s knee were places you could hear about this team for nearly 3 decades. It was our winningest season after playing 100 years of football, what fan wouldn’t want to talk about it? It wasn’t until Connor Shaw’s 2011 team notched 10 wins for the 2nd time in school history that we began a new chapter.

As we approach the 39th anniversary of Carolina’s “Dream Season”, I think about how each game played out; key stops, improbable 3rd down conversions, backups filling the role for injured starters…and NAVY. What that ‘84 team did as an Independent with what many called the toughest schedule in the nation was nothing short of historical. The defense was red hot all season & the garnet uniforms we wore from head to toe earned that unit the moniker: the Fire Ant Defense. They held high powered offenses to well below their season averages, and on nights the defense broke, we had Black Magic. The modern era Gamecock fans know of “2001” being played before Sandstorm, but even before Sandstorm existed, we were known nationally for our pageantry on game day. We were known as a rabid fan base starving for success. In 1984, the Gamecock faithful finally learned what it felt like to be talked about from coast to coast all year long. Follow along with me and relive some of the highlights of the Black Magic season!

Game 1: El Cid

We look on The Citadel as a homecoming game (tip of the hat to them for their win in 2015), but this old Southern Conference rival always played Carolina tough on the gridiron. They finished the ’84 season 7-4 with 3 nationally ranked conference members, but fell to South Carolina on opening weekend after a perfectly called and executed 40+ yard half back toss from Quinton Lewis to Chris Wade for the game winning score. Gamecock fans across the state of South Carolina were used to having the door closed on them, and this was a game we would usually lose while letting an inferior opponent hang around. Not this time. As the stands emptied and the turnstiles quit making noise, Gamecock fans were left to wonder if this season was one of the same that they’ve always known. Leaving that game must have felt like the last day of college; excited, but what’s next?

Game 2: Duke

The often-high-octane offense from the Duke Blue Devils came to town the following week, but the Gamecocks weren’t going to play another sloppy game. Starting linebacker Carl Hill had 11 solo tackles and 1 fumble, while Fitzgerald Davis added 3 sacks for the Fire Ants enroute to a 21-0 shutout of our former ACC foe. 2 of those crucial fumbles led to 1st half touchdowns. Duke was held to less than 60 rushing yards (with an unfortunate season ending injury to tailback Julius Granthom). To put that into context, football was a different game in the early 80’s as many teams ran high powered rushing attacks, and field position along with clock control was even more instrumental in that game. Holding a team to less than 60 yards rushing in one game was utter domination. Offensive highlights of this game were legend Raynard Brown’s 17 yard half back sweep to the right for a TD, as well as QB Allan Mitchell’s 31 yard TD pass to Eric Poole with 11 minutes to go in the 4th. We were 2-0 with national powerhouse UGA on tap.

Game 3: #12 Georgia

The heavily favored Bulldogs came to Columbia September 29th fresh off an incredible win against #2 Clemson. Let’s face it, every win against Clemson is incredible…even when it isn’t us. GAMECOCKS across the chest. 4 white stripes on each sleeve. Two thick white stripes bordering a garnet stripe on a garnet helmet with our Block C inside a white circle. The flawless look deserved flawless play, and the Fire Ants came out with a big stop on UGA’s first drive. After a deep punt, QB Allen Mitchell directed a marvelous 71-yard drive which included a 12 yard run on 4th and short to set up the first score of the game. Mitchell ran it in after a great option fake off the right side to put the good guys up 7 with 7 minutes to go in the 1st. The dawgs drove the field quickly but got bogged down at the goal line with 2 HUGE stops by the Gamecock defense. On 3rd down, UGA fumbled into the endzone, but recovered it. The rules at that time didn’t allow for fumbles to advance, and UGA settled for 3.

The ensuing kickoff was returned to the 50 yard line. Gamecock legend Kent Hagood burst off the left side for 17 to set up Scott Hagler’s 20+ yard field goal to go back up by 7. The Fire Ants took the field like someone shoed their mound hill. All American James Seawright hit the Georgia RB 2 yards in the backfield at the 3 yard line on a 3rd and 1 to stop the drive. On the last drive of the half, UGA hit two long passes (the one to the goal line would have been reviewed and called back 100%) to earn a 1st & goal with seconds remaining. From the 2, UGA quarterback Todd Williams is met at the line and fumbles the ball into Gamecock LB Paul Vogel’s hands. Take a knee. 10-3 at the half over a team who just beat #2. Can you smell it?


After a back-and-forth 3rd quarter that saw UGA tie the game 10-10, Mike Hold hit the Aiken/Edgefield legend, Ira Hillary, for 62 yards down the right side to the 6 yard line midway through the 4th quarter. Hold followed guard Del Wilkes a few plays later for the game winning touchdown with 8 to go. This sent Williams-Brice stadium into a frenzy, and Georgia’s next possession saw 75,000 people yelling GAME…. COCKS at the loudest decibel on each play. Hits in the backfield, stopping the runner at the line, near interceptions, a punt, and a Kent Hagood 20+ yard burst to ice it was all that was needed. The Gamecocks were 3-0 with a top 12 win under their belt. The miracle against the Citadel 2 games prior is a distant memory now.

Game 4: Kansas State

To spare any Kansas State fans that are reading this each scoring drive in a 49-17 drubbing, one key thing I haven’t noted yet was our 1-2 punch of QB’s Allen Mitchell and Mike Hold. Both led scoring drives in the 1st half with Mitchell throwing a 25 yard TD pass and Hold throwing a 43 yard TD pass with no time on the clock. With stacked up performances and a 4-0 record, the Gamecocks cracked the top 20 for the first time that season.

Game 5: Pittsburgh

South Carolina came into this game ranked #17, but Pittsburgh was having a rough year at 1-4. Although Pitt was often in the National title talks pre-season (1984 was no different) and only 2 years removed from Dan Marino’s senior season, the smell of blood was in the cockpit that day. The Gamecocks saw 4 scoring plays through the air, but none sweeter than Mike Hold’s 33 yarder to Chris Wade. Hold’s elusive style showed out as he eluded the Panther pass rush from multiple angles and eventually found Wade running a sandlot route wide open for the 21-14 lead in the 2nd. The Fire Ants had 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery to back up our stellar QB play that day. Dendy’s 40+ yard scramble down the left sideline for a touchdown drove the last nail in for the 45-21 victory. The Gamecock offense had 443 yards from scrimmage.

Game 6: @ Notre Dame

When this game was scheduled, no one expected USC to come into it ranked #11. Our first road test of the season couldn’t have presented a bigger challenge; down 26-14 in the 4th quarter, the writing was on the wall for the Gamecocks, but they were driving. The undefeated season was on the line but a critical mistake by ND on 4th and goal gave the Gamecocks a new set of downs from the 2 after a passing interference call. After Hagood ran it to the one, Hold scored on the next play by reaching over the goal line. USC went for and got the 2 point conversion to make it 26-22. Gamecock linebacker Paul Vogel makes a crucial interception on the very next play for Notre Dame at the 30 yard line. The writing was no longer on the wall. You could hear the Gamecock fans in the north endzone….in South Bend. This is where legends are born. Finally in the top 10, finally undefeated, on the road against a Blue Blood, down big in the 4th quarter…. then momentum shifts your way. We all know what happens next, right? Ever seen a USC game? Arguably the MVP of the game and season, pride of Easley, SC, Kent Hagood fumbles it right back to em’. After a great 8-yrd run on 1st down by Pickett, Glenn Woodley pulled a Clowney esque burst through the line and ended the play before it began. A play later and the Fire Ants proved to hold the line once more. ND Punts to the Gamecock 25 with 11:25 to go in the game.

With the turf wet from the second half rains, Mike Hold makes another one of his plays of the season with a 33-yard touchdown scramble with 8:40 to play in the game. This play was remarkable; Hold’s patience to wait on Eric Poole’s full sprint key block was sensational for any football fan. Poole was “out of the play” and his effort coupled with Hold’s vision was a thing of beauty. I get chicken skin just thinking about it. To break through the defensive line wasn’t easy either, as Hold was back for a called pass and picked up the blitz quick enough to only feel a tug on his jersey before sprinting towards the left hash and ultimately the endzone.

After a Beuerlein incomplete pass, ND half back Chris Smith lost a wet ball without being touched and the Gamecocks pounced on it. 1st and 10 from the 19. Raynard Brown takes a half back sweep 12 yards to the 7, and the next play he’s brought down at the 5 by Mike Golic. 2nd and goal, we call a half back sweep to the left to Quinton Lewis for the touchdown with 7:47 to go. 36-26…the Gamecocks have scored 22 points in the 4th quarter on the road against Notre Dame. That is not a typo. Notre Dame doesn’t abandon their gameplan and embraces the run even though the clock is not in their favor. Run, run, pass worked for 2 straight series as the Gamecocks held them to two 3rd and longs that they converted; one deep into Carolina territory. They punched it in 3 plays later with 4:43 to play. 2 pt conversion failed. USC up 4.

It didn’t look good from the moment the ensuing squib quick came of ND’s foot. Ira Hillary had a wet ball coming to him, and he had a hard time corralling it. He did the smart thing and fell on it at the 8 yard line. Momentum was shifting. The next two plays were forward 3 and backward 4. On 3rd and long, Bill Bradshaw got open and made a critical 1st down catch. The next series was even worse as ND stood up. What I thought was a great 3rd and 11 call with Hold running a naked reverse was snuffed out by the end who stayed home and took us down for a loss. Forced to punt with 2:40 to go.

You still remember that Carolina theme and what happens next? We snap a wet ball over our head in the endzone for a Safety. We give them the ball back and they only need 3 to win. As Black Magic, I mean luck, would have it, we get called for a false start. Replay the down! Carolina’s punt goes to the 50 with 1:22 to play and we avoid a major letdown. Time for the fire ant defense to hold the line. Notre Dame was forced to abandon their game plan and pass their way to victory. That didn’t happen as we picked off their pass at the 7 yard line. Hold knees it 3 times, and the Gamecocks smell the top 5 for the first time in school history.

Game 7: East Carolina

The Pirates came to Columbia having a rough season. It was all USC needed after an emotional win in South Bend. The offense stacked 559 yards of offense on the sheet before the day was over with big play after big play. Not sweeter than Kent Hagood’s 70+ yard TD that started with him burying a defender with his shoulder pad. Perhaps the sweetest was Mike Hold’s 70+ yard scoring strike to Hillary down the right sideline? This game was no doubt a fun one for South Carolina players and fans alike. Forcing 5 turnovers and sacking the QB 6 time will do that. The Gamecocks were now 7-0 with another North Carolina school on the docket.

Game 8: @ NC State

Entering this game, South Carolina hadn’t won in Raleigh since 1966. Down 15-3 at the half, South Carolina rallied to tie the game 28-28 late in the fourth quarter. A 45 yard scramble by Mike Hold, and a 61 yard TD to tight end Chris Corley brought the Gamecocks to this point. Both Hagood and Dendy each had 100 yards rushing and the Gamecocks amassed 500+ yards of offense for the second straight week, but it didn’t come without a price. Kent Hagood was lost for the season with a broken leg. It wasn’t quite the same as losing Lattimore in 2011 and 2012 mid-season, but it’s as close as you can get. He was a bull up the middle and had plenty of speed on the outside sweep. If only we had Hagood for NAVY and Oklahoma State. The Gamecocks completed another comeback win on the road, and left Raleigh with a 35-28 win outscoring NC State 32-13 after the early deficit.

Game 9: #10 Florida State

This was easily the biggest game in school history. Never had South Carolina been in the top 5, & we were #5. Never had USC won 9 games in a season, & we were 8-0. Keith Jackson was calling our game and talking about our Gamecocks with high esteem. Afterall, there were 3 undefeated teams in the country, and he was about to watch one of them in person. Keith Jackson’s opening statement to co-host Frank Broyles on the broadcast as he looks around at a packed house: “Frank, this has got it! My Goodness! Can you believe the enthusiasm that exists in the midlands of South Carolina? However, we may need a 3-digit scoreboard to handle it today.” FSU averaged 38 points per game on the season to South Carolina’s 34.

After a great kick return by FSU to the 45, the first play from scrimmage set the tone as the Seminole QB was sacked hard for a 4 yards loss. The crowd erupted and the nationally televised top 10 matchup was about to be worth the billing. The Gamecock’s controlled the 1st half and went into the locker room up 17-7 as the caretakers of Williams-Brice lit the lamps high above the field. Little did they know that the first play of the second half would warrant those lights.


Raynard Brown caught the opening 2nd half kick-off at the 1 yard line and burst up to the 25, seemingly stopped in his tracks. He kept the wheels churning and bounced out of the pile in full sprint towards the left sideline. He boat raced everyone to the endzone for what still stands as one of the greatest plays in USC history. The Fire Ant’s bite hard all night forcing 9 turnovers (7 int’s) against the nation’s #1 offense in College Football. Bryant Gilliard had 4 interceptions, 11 tackles, & a fumble recovery enroute to his Sports Illustrated National Defensive Player of the Week honors. When Allen Mitchell hit Bradshaw on a scoring pass in the 3rd quarter, South Carolina went up 31-7 on a top 10 team with “the best” offense in the country. To ABC, we are sorry we didn’t give you a better game…but we earned this one. Record: 9-0 heading to Annapolis, Maryland. The Gamecocks earned their highest ranking of all time, #2 in the nation after their closer than it was 38-26 win over #10 FSU.

Game 10: @ NAVY

I’ll be honest, we didn’t pull for NAVY for any reason in my house for 25 years. This game stung that bad. It wasn’t close and the Gamecocks lost to a heavy underdog on the road 38-21. The #2 ranking was gone, the undefeated season was gone, National Title hopes out the door, but we still had one more to play. It was infinitely more important now that we had lost the easier of the remaining two. The pressure was on as the Gamecocks licked their wounds leading up to a trip in Death Valley. Record: 9-1

Game 11: @ Clemson

Coming off disappointing losses to Maryland and NAVY, Clemson and USC came to win. This was a game that had everything you would want. This was Clemson’s bowl game as they were on probation for buying their 1981 National Title , and their seniors wanted this one big time. Heck, this was the first game they had ever worn all orange. Don’t let them tell you this game means nothing, that’s absurd. Their first time ever wearing orange pants was also against us 4 years prior. The Gamecocks had already accepted their bid to the Gator Bowl, but this Clemson team had only lost 5 total games since their national title, and none of those were to us. Spot the ball and let’s see who’s better!


Clemson stormed out to a 21-3 lead, but South Carolina managed a decent drive with .46 seconds left in the half. Hagler missed the FG, but the Tigers were flagged for roughing. More Black Magic. The Gamecocks had a decision to make: go with the struggling kicker, or go for it on 4th down. Coach Morrison elected to give it to Quinton Lewis up the middle on 4th & 4 from the 6 and he dives over the goal line for a much-needed score before the half. The drive was too good not to score, and Lewis celebrated on his back in the endzone like a 10 year old who just got a Red Ryder BB gun on Christmas day. Went from a missed FG and 21-3 at the half, to a gutsy call and 21-10 at the half. This was a come from behind team, and although not in the friendly confines of the Cock Pit, Gamecocks fight in any barnyard.

After South Carolina earned field position and pinned Clemson down inside their own 5 on a great punt, Clemson was sacked for a safety by Tony Guyton and Willie McIntee. Huge swing of momentum now being down 9 and getting the ball back. The following drive started with a great return of 25 yards by Jerry Dunlap to the Carolina 44. The ensuing Quinton Lewis run off the left side took Carolina into Clemson territory at the 38 yard line; hell of a run by Lewis. After a great drive stalled, we settled for a missed chip shot FG by Hagler. After the teams swapped punts, the Tiger first two plays late in the 3rd quarter were a Tony Guyton 10 yard tackle for a loss and a Gilliard interception. This represented his 8th interception of the year, and a Carolina record for the season. No better place to do that than against Clemson.

After a couple short runs, it set up a 3rd & 5 in Clemson territory with the score at 21-12. It was all for naught as Hold missed Bradshaw across the middle, and a touchback put the Tigers on the 20 early in the 4th quarter. After a Clemson punt, the Gamecocks go on a nice drive with big completions to Bradshaw over the middle, and Chris Wade on the right sideline on 3rd and long. The drive goes 13 plays, but stalls leading to a Hagler 41 yard FG to cut the lead to 6 at 21-15 with under 8 to play. The Fire Ants hold Clemson to another punt, which ends up inside the Carolina 20. This sets up a necessary long drive with under 3 minutes left in the game. The first play was trickery that should have been picked off by Clemson and returned for the TD. Fortunately, Reggie Pleasant cant catch. On 3rd & 6 with our backs against the wall, Hold finds Chris Wade for 37 yards into Clemson territory with 2 minutes on the clock. The gassed offensive lineman are running down the field to get the play and get set. Lewis takes the next hand off on a trap play, and scrambles for 16 yards to the Clemson 29 yard line. Clock is ticking. Next play, Dendy outruns a State (Aiken High), National (Clemson Tigers), and eventual World champion (Chicago Bears) in William Perry off the right side for 15-16 yards. Blood is in the water. Nothing is stopping this offense. Nothing. With all 1’s on the clock, the ultimate competitor in Mike Hold runs for 10 yards to the Clemson 2 and Clemson is called for a facemask. Ball at the one, snap, Hold runs it in and Bradshaw celebrates in the endzone like he got a Red Ryder. Tie game 21-21. Carolina drama on tap.

Hagler shanks the FG that would almost assuredly seal the 1 point victory and unlikely comeback. However, this is our Black Magic season, a theme I’m sure you are beginning to notice. Clemson is flagged. Hagler nails the second try to take the lead by 1 with under a minute to play. 9 plays, 84 yards, 2:13 off the clock. That’s close to 10 yards per play. Go watch that drive folks, it’s a thing of beauty. Like the boneheads we know they can be, Clemson brings a deep kick out of the endzone and doesn’t even make it to the 8 yard line. 51 seconds on the clock. The sure handed Clemson receiver, Roulhac, flat dropped a wide open 30 yard gain. Next play, pass to the 30 with 36 to play…timeout Clemson. Carl Hill puts great pressure with a nice hit on the Clemson QB after an incomplete on 1st, and the ball falls to the turf on 2nd. 3rd and 10 saw more pressure, another hit, and another incomplete pass. 4th and 10 and Eppley goes long and overthrows his man.

In victory formation, The Fridge William Perry plows through the line as Hold doesn’t take a knee, as if to take more time off the clock. It looked like the 330 lb Perry was gonna toss Hold like a rag doll. The whistle is blown, and Hold cements his name in USC/Clemson rivalry with his next move. He holds the ball out for William Perry to grab, and drops it at his feet. Pick it, loser. We’ll enjoy the ride home. Sound the Rooster and Step to the Rear.

Gator Bowl: #9 Oklahoma State

This was hyped as the best bowl game of the season, and it did not disappoint. Featuring #7 vs #9, a Gator Bowl Record of over 82,000 were in attendance. 50,000 were the Gamecock faithful looking for the 11th win they wouldn’t get until 2011. Being shut out at half time 13-0, the Gamecocks stormed out with key defensive stops of future College & Pro football Hall of Fame RB Thurmon Thomas. They eliminated the deficit and took the lead in .56 seconds of game play 14-13. It wasn’t to be, as Oklahoma State made enough plays to win the game 21-14. Yes, you want to win that game, but you walk out of that stadium with your head held high. We went toe to toe with the nations best on national stages we’ve never been on, and we proved we belonged.

I choose to remember this team for those incredible comebacks, the wins over ND, Clemson, & Georgia, and the 10-2 record and an AP Final ranking of #11…the highest ever achieved until the Spurrier Era. Joe Morrison won the Walter Camp National COTY award as well as the Southern Independent coach of the year award. He coached two All-Americans in OL Del Wilkes and LB James Seawright during the 1984 season. After back to back 8-4 seasons in ‘87 and ‘88, Joe Morrison collapsed on campus and passed away in February of 1989 with high hopes for the ’89 season. His legacy still lives on in our black uniforms, throughout all sports teams at USC, as he is the first coach to bring them on as the main home uniform (’87 & ’88). He also brought us 2001: a Space Odyssey to our pre-game ritual, as well as the CAROLINA script we still use today. Our spring practice Most Outstanding awards for offense and defense are named in his honor.

Gamecock Bourbon Society Will Commemorate the 1984 Season this Fall

This fall, the Gamecock Bourbon Society is releasing one of the most special bottles many of us at GBS have ever had the privilege to taste. We were pre-selected for an ultra-exclusive Single Barrel from Blue Run Spirits, and we are appropriately naming our bottle “Black Magic” in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of our 1984 season. We had 6 barrels to choose from, and our team of 9 all settled on a flavor profile that each of you will enjoy for birthdays and anniversaries for years to come. The delicate traditional flavors of honey and vanilla coat the glass, but also present are the aroma of graham cracker and a toasted marshmallow sweetness that will remind you of camping as a child. The signature butterfly medallion on the front of each bottle will be matte black with garnet striping to honor the achievements of our gridiron boys of 1984. Don’t let the 124.4 proof fool you into thinking it’s “hot”. This barrel was even more delicate on the palate than some of the ones we tasted that were much lower in proof. The barrel selection process from tasting to bottle in hand is a long one. We tasted this barrel in the spring, and have been told it will be ready mid football season. Keep your eyes on our social media accounts but especially our newsletter through email. Most, if not all, of our communication about our barrel program will be exchanged this way.

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