GAINESVILLE — Painful memories are part of Stephen Garcia's history at Florida Field.
Garcia, a former Jefferson High quarterback, guided the Dragons to the 2004 Class 3A state championship game at Florida Field, only to lose to Jacksonville Bolles 42-21. And in 2008, Garcia's freshman season at South Carolina, he was limited to 28 yards passing in relief duty as the Gators swamped the Gamecocks 56-6 in the pouring rain.
But Saturday, with his offense trampling the Florida defense in a 36-14 route, Garcia walked off Florida Field a winner for the first time.
"History is history," Garcia said. "This is a new game. This is a new team that we have now, as opposed to two years ago. We came out and looked them in the eye and fought as hard as we could and came away with the victory."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier limited Garcia's role to 22 passing attempts as the Gamecocks gutted the Gators with freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore carrying the ball 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
But Garcia, who was pulled in the previous week's loss to Arkansas after throwing a pair of interceptions, did not turn the ball over in going 15-of-22 for 156 yards.
"Stephen's doing well," Spurrier said. "We aren't built to throw the football a whole bunch the way Arkansas and some of those schools are. But that's okay."
Garcia, who signed with the Gamecocks to play for Spurrier, has had his responsibility within the offense minimized this season. He averages 22.3 passing attempts per game.
But the junior, who said leading up to this game that it would be the biggest in school history, earned a signature win with clutch play on third downs. Garcia was 5 for 10 passing on those downs. And the Gamecocks successfully moved the chains on third downs 6 of 13 times when Garcia was called upon to throw or run.
Garcia completed two third-down passes in the second quarter to set up Spencer Lanning field goals that gave South Carolina a 15-7 halftime lead.
Perhaps his most pivotal completions came at the beginning of the third quarter. On South Carolina's first drive of the half, Garcia found D.L. Moore for 19 yards on third and 8, then connected with Tori Gurley for 12 yards on third and 10, setting up a Lattimore 21-yard touchdown run that gave the Gamecocks a 22-7 lead.
Garcia put a bow on South Carolina's victory early in the fourth quarter with an 8-yard touchdown run on third and goal. On a draw play, the quarterback burst up the middle, then bowled over Florida free safety Will Hill with his right shoulder as he crossed the goal line.
"We made (plays) when we needed to," Garcia said, "and I think that's what won the game for us."