SPARTANBURG — Ben Boulware knew which way the wind was blowing in the days leading up to the 76th Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas at Wofford College’s Gibbs Stadium.
According to recruiting services, he and his fellow South Carolina Sandlappers were decidedly overmatched by North Carolina star power.
Whatever: South Carolina 23, North Carolina 19.
“We were kind of the underdogs,” said the senior linebacker from T.L. Hanna. “They base it off of height and weight and 40-yard dash times and they were all four stars and five stars while our defense and offense weren’t highly recruited dudes.”
Boulware himself is a major college commitment with mundane measurables. At 6-1, 226 pounds, he’ll have a little work to do to get on the field at Clemson next year. That said, no player had his name called more often on Saturday afternoon.
In earning team defensive MVP honors, Boulware recorded a game-high nine tackles, including 2½ for loss. He also recovered a fumble and picked off a pass.
He provided a much-needed counterpoint to a player who will be his counterpart for the next four seasons in college.
North Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper, a USC commitment, might have given the Gamecocks pause after recruiting him as a defensive back. Playing solely on offense Saturday, Cooper led the Tarheels in rushing, receiving, returns and all-purpose yardage.
Lining up as a quarterback in the wildcat formation, Cooper amassed a game-high 104 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown run that gave North Carolina a brief 13-9 lead. He also caught three passes for 39 yards and returned five punts for 94 yards.
“That’s why he’s committed to the University of South Carolina,” said Stratford coach Ray Stackley, who headed the Sandlapper coaching staff.
“I feel like I had a great game,” Cooper said. “Every game you go in and set goals, trying to score and make plays. … I feel I did that.”
Cooper’s touchdown run midway through the third quarter seemed to awaken the South Carolina offense. Two long fourth-quarter scoring drives decided the outcome. Conway’s Mykal Moody capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 5-yard run . Then Hilton Head quarterback Michael Julian’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Belton-Honea Path’s Keinan Lewis gave the Sandlappers a 23-13 lead with 3:14 remaining.
Noah Suber’s second touchdown run made things interesting with 36 seconds remaining, but the extra point attempt was blocked by Gaffney’s Jaylen Miller and South Carolina covered the ensuing onside kick.
Conway’s Malcolm Greene won Sandlapper offensive MVP honors with three receptions for 98 yards. North Carolina’s defensive MVP award went to Quintin Patterson.
Dutch Fork’s Jamar Winston forced a fumble that Greenwood’s Devon Durant returned 47 yards to set up South Carolina with a red zone opportunity. South Carolina fumbled six times, losing two, and threw an interception. Still, that was one fewer turnover than North Carolina, which lost a fumble and threw three interceptions.
It added up to an unlikely victory.
“Everyone told us we didn’t have a chance to win,” Stackley said. “Everybody said that. I think our kids played with a chip on their shoulder. They didn’t talk, didn’t talk all week. They just came out and walked the walk.”
Well, there was one person who also talked the talk:
“They were all 6-foot-4 and 6-5 dudes and of course we’re a smaller team,” Boulware said. “That’s what they were saying all over the Internet, how we’re a lot smaller and a lot slower, but I guess being highly recruited doesn’t determine how good a football player you are. I think we proved that today.”
Terry injured: South Carolina Mr. Football recipient Tramel Terry was injured while returning the opening kickoff. Stackley said the Georgia commitment sustained ligament damage in his knee. Later, Terry told ESPN, “They tell me I tore my ACL, but I don’t know about that. It feels fine to me. I’m going to have an MRI on it as soon as I get back to Charleston.”
NC — Noah Suber fumble recovery in end zone (kick failed).
SC — Romello Doctor 2-yard run (kick failed).
SC — Ben Hinson 21-yard field goal.
NC — Pharoh Cooper 45-yard run (Wogan kick).
SC — Mykal Moody 5-yard run (Hinson kick).
SC — Keinan Lewis 14-yard pass from Julian (Hinson kick).
NC — Suber 10-yard run (kick failed).
Rushing: NC- Pharoh Cooper 11-104, Noah Suber 10-40, Khris Francis 4-33, TJ Logan 13-32, Jachin Watkins 6-7, Kalif Phillips 1-2. SC- Darius Hammond 5-32, Harold Atkinson- 5-28, Romello Doctor 12-27, Akia Booker 2-16, Mykal Moody 2-8, Keiston Smith 2-4, Michael Julian 7-(-11).
Passing: NC- Noah Suber 5-10-0-62, BJ Beecher 1-7-3-7, Pharoh Cooper 1-1-(-3). SC- Michael Julian 9-23-0-147, Keiston Smith 0-3-1-0.
Receiving: Pharoh Cooper 3-39, TJ Logan 2-23, Demetrius Oliver 1-7, Darryl Wilson 1-(-3). SC- Malcolm Green 3-98, Keinan Lewis 1-14, Mykal Moody 1-14, Fabian Jefferson 1-14, Harold Atkinson 1-9, Akia Booker 1-8, Rontavius McClure 1-(-10).