By Rixon Lane
The 1965 matchup between the Gamecocks and Tigers was one of the biggest in the history of the rivalry. For the first time ever, both South Carolina and Clemson entered the game with a shot at a conference championship.
Clemson needed a win to claim the ACC championship. South Carolina could earn a share of the conference title with Duke (who had defeated the Gamecocks earlier in the season) by beating the Tigers. The Gamecocks had never won any sort of championship in program history.
South Carolina was also looking to win back-to-back games against the Tigers for the first time since 1953-54.
On the road, the Tigers took an early lead. After getting a first-quarter field goal from Frank Pearce, Clemson pushed its lead to 10-0 on a 25-yard touchdown run from Phil Rogers with just minute remaining in the first half. However, South Carolina rallied on a long pass from Mike Fair to J.R. Wilburn to the Clemson 25-yard line. Wilburn would go on to set the school record for receiving yards in a season, accounting for 562 yards in 1965. Jule Smith found the end zone several plays later on a 1-yard run, cutting the Tiger lead to 10-7.
The Gamecocks tied the score in the third quarter on a 21-yard field goal from Jimmy Poole. In the fourth quarter, South Carolina turned to the ground game. Bob Harris took an option pitch from Fair and scored from seven yards out to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the day. Clemson appeared to be driving for the game-tying score, but Bobby Bryant picked off a pass at the Gamecock 12 to end the Tiger threat.
Clemson got the ball one more time. With 40 seconds on the clock, Tommy Ray connected with Phil Rogers for a 16-yard touchdown, trimming South Carolina's lead to 17-16.
With an ACC title on the line, Clemson head coach Frank Howard went for the win. The Tigers had Bo Ruffner in the end zone, but Gamecock linebacker Bob Gunnels tipped the pass away to seal the victory for South Carolina in what turned out to be coach Marvin Bass's final game in Columbia. In April, Bass, who defeated Clemson three times in five seasons, resigned to take a head coaching job in the Continental Professional Football League.
The Gamecocks would wind up having to forfeit the win and their share of the ACC championship months later. An investigation showed that three Gamecock players who had not qualified for scholarship money received between $75 and $100 for meals and textbooks.
Clemson refused to accept the forfeit and both schools still give the Gamecocks credit for the victory.
As far as the ACC title, South Carolina and Duke both finished 4-2 in the conference. The Gamecocks forfeited all four wins, making them 0-6 in the league. The ACC didn't have balanced scheduling in 1965, meaning that South Carolina and Duke played six league games while Clemson and N.C. State played seven, going 4-3.
When the forfeits were tallied up, Clemson and N.C. State now stood at 5-2, while Duke remained at 4-2. Therefore, the Blue Devils, despite doing nothing wrong, were stripped of their share of the conference title. Clemson and N.C. State were declared co-champions.