Carpenter, Kight and Small score their first touchdowns, combine for 10 receptions.
By JILL MARTIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- Tight end Darrell Carpenter is not a scholarship athlete at Florida.
In fact, he was not offered a scholarship at any of the large schools he explored: North Carolina, Duke and Vanderbilt.
"My motivation to play wasn't that big," said Carpenter of his ambitions when he graduated from Orlando's Edgewater High.
But Carpenter came up big Saturday night.
With Ben Troupe out with a high ankle sprain, the sophomore's opportunity arrived.
He entered with one career catch, which he had last week against Vanderbilt. Against South Carolina, he caught a 15-yard pass with 44 seconds left in the first half for his first touchdown. The call that led to the score surprised many in the stands -- and perhaps Carpenter as well.
"Normally I have a little corner route there, but Rex (Grossman) changed it and told me to give a little post," Carpenter said. "I didn't really do anything -- just run down the field and catch it."
It did not look promising heading into halftime. Florida's SEC East hopes were extinguished by Georgia's 24-21 win at Auburn. Wide receiver Taylor Jacobs was out with a sprained MCL. Carlos Perez, who passed Jacobs as the SEC's leader in receptions, was helped off the field with a broken leg.
But it didn't take the usual Gators to defeat South Carolina. Instead, an unsung trio of Carpenter and wide receivers O.J. Small and Kelvin Kight combined for 10 receptions and three touchdowns.
Coach Ron Zook said their ability to step up illustrated how well his staff prepared the backups.
"Someone keeps stepping up and doing the things they have to do," Zook said. "Guys step up and make things happen."
Small is aware he is overshadowed by a talented group of wide receivers, two of whom are the best in the SEC.
But Saturday, he made the most of his opportunity. He snagged a 12-yard pass from Grossman for his first career touchdown with 9:43 left in the third quarter.
"I was just trying to be patient and wait for my turn to make plays, and the opportunity came, so I had to take advantage of it," Small said.
Grossman said Small is not the fastest receiver, but he does have quickness and good hands. Small finished with five receptions for 55 yards.
"Speed is not everything," Small said. "As long as I get open I know that I can catch the ball."
Kight has not missed a game this season, but his performances usually had a minimal effect on the outcome -- a few catches one week, a few more the next. Even with nine catches for 115 yards against Georgia on Nov. 2, Kight was held scoreless.
He had another low statistical output against the Gamecocks: three catches for 35 yards. But the junior finally got his touchdown, a stat that had been eluding him all season.
Troupe could return for Florida State on Nov. 30, so Carpenter's duties for the season could be finished.
But Small and Kight could become vital playmakers for the final regular-season game.
"I know all the receivers are going to have to pick it up," Small said. "Kight, myself, Vernell (Brown), Antoine (Sharp) and some of the freshmen. Hopefully we'll keep making plays."