Gamecocks juggle emotions as game to decide SEC East nears

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, who has rushed for 752 yards, and the Gamecocks face Florida on Saturday (7:15 p.m., ESPN).

Gerry Melendez

In the final home game of the season, the winless Charleston Southern football team is hoping to send its 14 seniors out with a victory.

That task will not be easy considering today's opponent, Coastal Carolina, beat the Buccaneers, 70-3, in the final game last year.

CSU coach Jay Mills says last year's game doesn't matter. Today's game is all about the seniors.

"We haven't even addressed last year's game," said Mills. "We're so young that a lot of these guys were not even around for that.

"Senior Day is always a special day and a special opportunity for the young men who gave four years (and sometimes five) to the program and the university."

While the day belongs to the senior class, it's hard not to look at CSU's current roster and see promise for the future. More than half of the roster is comprised of sophomores and freshmen, with many of the underclassmen among the team leaders in most statistical categories.

One such player is sophomore receiver Nathan Perera, who has come virtually from nowhere to become one of the leading pass catchers in the Big South Conference.

Through the first six games of the season, Perera had 14 receptions for 202 yards. In the last three contests, Perera has 22 receptions for 410 yards.

In last week's loss to Stony Brook, the 6-3, 200-pounder from Orlando, Fla., had 10 catches for 232 yards and two touchdowns.

"He has the tools and has shown the ability to be one of the best in this league," said Mills. "What he did (last week) was very impressive. It seemed that every time the ball was in the air, he was going to get it. Like most of our team, he's been banged up some and we really didn't know what we could get out of him."

Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett has taken notice of Perera's play of late.

"He could play for anybody," said Bennett. "He is talented enough to play anywhere, at any level."

Perera's emergence has coincided with the play of junior quarterback Richard Mounce, who has started the last two games for injured starter Malcolm Dixon.

Mounce is the better passer, while Dixon is more of a running threat. Mounce has passed for 702 yards in his extended playing time over the last 2 1/2 games.

Mills says both quarterbacks should play today.

"Malcolm should be ready to play and that should be helpful to us offensively," said the coach. "I think both individuals have earned the right to play. It's going to depend on situations and how they execute. It's certainly nice to have the option to play both of them."