South Carolina visited Georgia for homecoming in November of 1970. Georgia had already lost it’s top signal caller, James Ray, to injury earlier in the season and Mike Cavan led the Bulldog attack.
A Sanford Stadium sellout crowd of 57,000 and millions more through the magic of ABC TV watched South Carolina return ace All-American Dickie Harris return a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and minutes later an interception 96 yards for a touchdown, resulting in a 21-3 first quarter lead for South Carolina Head Coach Paul Dietzel’s Gamecocks.
Already shocked Harris’ heriocs , Georgia fans watched Cavan fall to injury after a face mask jerk by a South Carolina pass rusher. Cavan recovered from his injury. The Gamecocks did not. The play turned the tide in Georgia’s favor.
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Little used third string quarterback Paul Gilbert entered the game to lead the Bulldog attack. Gilbert was not an ordinary third stringer, once the successor to Fran Tarkenton as the next hometown hero from Athens, a high school All-American. After sharing mop up quarterback duty as a sophomore in 1967, Gilbert secured the number one spot early in the 1968 fall camp. But instead of leading one of the most explosive offenses of the Vince Dooley era, Gilbert went down with a season denying leg injury before he could take a snap.
Gilbert failed to regain his original form, riding the pine in 1969 and so far in 1970. But on this day, there was no one but Gilbert left.
Now under center as the last quarterback standing, Gilbert rose to the occasion. He immediately brought the red and black throng to its feet with long passes to Billy Brice and Charley Whittemore. The ensuing five yard Robert Honeycutt run for a touchdown and Gilbert’s pass for two points brought the Dawgs within 10.
But South Carolina responded, the Dawgs responded back and the game soon took on the tone of a heavyweight boxing match, both fighters swapping punches round after round.
Georgia eventually slowed down the Gamecocks to gain a 32-31 lead. The Gamecocks answered again, this time with a field goal, to lead 34-22. But this would be the hometown hero’s day. Gilbert scored three times and passed for 245 yards, the finest performance ever by a Georgia relief quarterback. The result was a 51-34 victory, the greatest come from behind Georgia victory to that date.
Gilbert’s heroics never happen without Cavan’s injury. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, and Cavan’s injury was the turning point in one of Georgia’s greatest comebacks.
Again, the greatest of games have heroes on both sides of the ball and in 1970, the tragic figure was South Carolina’s Dickie Harris, whose 190 return yards for two touchdowns went for naught.
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