COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor was just where he wanted to be against No. 10 South Carolina.
The Midshipmen (2-1) got the ball on their 6-yard-line with 5:34 left and down just three points. But their option, which had hummed all night, suddenly stopped. Facing a fourth-and 7 at his own 34, Proctor's pass was too short and wound up being a game-winning interception in the Gamecocks' 24-21 victory Saturday night.
``It could have been a storybook ending for us. All we had to was execute, score and win the game. We fell short on fourth down,' Proctor said.
The Midshipmen have beaten Notre Dame three of the past four seasons after breaking a more than five-decade losing streak against the Irish. They have had eight straight winning seasons. But Navy hasn't beaten a Top 10 team since upsetting the then-No. 2 and undefeated Gamecocks 38-21 in November 1984.
``Our guys are heartbroken right now. There's not a guy in our locker room not heartbroken,' Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``It's a tough pill to swallow.'
Navy did win some respect. Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he never wants to play them again. Last year's Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year Marcus Lattimore, who ran for a career-high 246 yards and three touchdowns, was impressed with how the Midshipmen backs fought for every yard.
``Hats off to Navy. I'm glad they're not in the SEC,' Lattimore said. ``As far as playing your assignment and doing what you are supposed to do every play, that's the best team we've ever faced.'
The Midshipmen ran their option efficiently, rushing for 274 yards split among seven players. Fullback Alex Teich led them with 93 yards rushing and a touchdown. Proctor added 68 yards against a defense that was allowing just 137 yards a game coming in.
Proctor completed five of his nine passes, but twice he threw too quickly and just missed receivers that appeared to be open for big plays, including not giving running back John Howell an extra second to get behind the defense late in the second quarter.
``At the end of the first have we missed a big play. We had a chance. We felt like we had a wide open and we weren't able to convert there. We had a chance to get seven there,' Niumatalolo said. ``If you ask me that was a huge play because they come back right after that and get three before the half.'
And that field goal may have been the difference.
Navy stopped South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia on a keeper, forcing a fourth-and-7 from the Navy 49. The Midshipmen didn't call a time-out, and the Gamecocks let the play clock run down before calling their own time-out with 24 seconds to go.
Garcia then completed a 12-yard pass to Justice Cunningham and a 5-yard pass to Lattimore, leaving enough time for Jay Wooten to kick a 48-yard field goal to end the half.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier decided to ride Lattimore in the second half. The Gamecocks (3-0) ran 37 plays in the second half, and Lattimore touched the ball on 26 of them.
With the Gamecocks trailing 21-17 late in the third quarter, Lattimore touched it 11 times on a 15-play drive. He gained 58 of the 79 yards and finished with a 7-yard run that put South Carolina ahead 24-21.
Navy had two more possessions, but couldn't get the offense going. Gamecocks freshman defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney kept breaking into the backfield to hurry passes and cut off some of Proctor's options.
Proctor said the Gamecocks' speed on defense caught up to Navy at the end.
``It's hard to get tackles up on them. We thought we had a good game plan, but it just didn't work out,' Proctor said.
The Midshipmen also couldn't stop Lattimore, whose 246 yards rank fourth in South Carolina history.
``He is a very patient runner, but so explosive,' Niumatalolo said. ``He gets hit at the line of scrimmage and drags us for more yards. He is everything he was built to be.'
Garcia was 18 of 25 for 204 yards, mostly on short passes. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery didn't start because he broke a team rule and finished with two catches for 35 yards.
While their coach was heartbroken, Navy's players took a little more solace in taking the No. 10 team to the wire. Running back Gee Gee Greene, who practically grew up in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, said playing an SEC opponent so tough shows the Navy program keeps getting better.
``We are excited about where the program is going,' Greene said. ``Every year we are constantly trying to get better.'
The Associated Press News Service
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