Mason Rudolph hadn’t lost all year.
He wasn’t going to start on Saturday.
The Northwestern quarterback connected on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Gaffney’s Shaq Davidson with 16 seconds remaining to lead South Carolina to a 28-23 comeback victory against North Carolina in the 77th Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas at Gibbs Stadium. South Carolina has won two in a row and leads the overall series 43-30-4.
Rudolph was named South Carolina’s Offensive Most Valuable Player, finishing 15 of 22 for 182 yards and three touchdowns. He connected on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Chapman’s Deebo Samuel on the game’s opening drive and found Byrnes’ Shaedon Meadors on a 33-yard strike on fourth-and-10 on the next possession to increase the lead to 14-0.
“The last drive was pretty crazy,” Rudolph said. “Give North Carolina credit. They played great all second half and came back. It was a nail-biter. I was just able to put the ball in our athletes’ hands. (Woodruff’s) Blake (Bone), Shaq, all those guys made me look good out there the last drive.”
The Sandlappers led 14-0 at the half but watched North Carolina cut it to 14-10 at the end of the third quarter behind a 15-yard touchdown run from Elijah Hood (Charlotte Catholic) and a 22-yard field goal by Freeman Jones (Bunn).
The Tarheels took a 17-14 lead within the first minute of the fourth quarter on a 6-yard run from Hood. South Carolina battled back for a 21-17 lead as Joe Blue (Dillon) scored from a yard out on fourth-and-1, but Hood erased the deficit on his third touchdown run, another 6-yarder, for a 23-21 advantage with 3:59 to go.
Hood was named the North Carolina Offensive MVP with 23 carries for 92 yards with the three scores.
“I got to go out there and do something I love, and in the end it is for the kids,” Hood said. “I’m at peace with it because we put on a good show and raised a lot of money and it went to some good people doing some great things. If it was a normal game and just for the sake of football, I might be a little more upset.”
Following Hood’s third score, Rudolph went to work on a 10-play, 68-yard drive. He connected three times with Bone before finding Davidson in the back corner of the end zone.
Bone led all Sandlappers with seven receptions for 55 yards. Davidson had four catches for 44 yards with the touchdown. Meadors finished with three catches for 84 yards.
“Mason ran the play two plays before,” Davidson said of the touchdown. “I told him if he just throws it up there, I’d try my best to come down with it. I thought it was going to get away. That’s why I decided to stretch out for it.”
“I had missed it a couple times before today,” Rudolph said of the game-winning throw. “To have him open like that in double coverage was a great job on his part.”
South Carolina coach Tommy Brown (Orangeburg-Wilkinson) said he had confidence in Rudolph’s ability to lead the game-winning drive.
“Mason played in that type of offense, making quick throws and good decisions,” Brown said. “He’s been in situations like this a lot. It was like a regular day for him. It was a great throw and a great catch in a critical moment.”
Solomon Brown (Daniel) was South Carolina’s Defensive MVP with 10 tackles with two for loss and a sack.
Jalen McClendon (West Mecklenburg) led the Tarheels, completing 16 of 26 for 164 yards. Trevion Thompson (Hillside) finished with five catches for 37 yards, while Dominique Heath (Hopewell) grabbed four catches for 42 yards.
Emmanuel Moseley (Dudley) was North Carolina’s Defensive MVP with seven tackles, one for loss.
“That’s how you want (an all-star game) to be, but you want it to be on your end,” North Carolina coach Burton Cates (Lee County) said. “I can’t say enough about the kids. They went through adversity this week with replacement players and key injuries to us. … Our coaches did a great job. I knew they would. Our players played extremely hard.”
A check in the amount of $1,437,720.13 was presented to the Shriner’s Hospital at the half.
SC — Mason Rudolph 21-yard pass to Deebo Samuel (Alex Spence kick)
SC — Rudolph 33-yard pass to Shaedon Meadors (Spence kick)
NC — Elijah Hood 15-yard run (Freeman Jones kick)
NC — Freeman Jones 22-yard field goal
NC — Hood 6-yard run (Jones kick)
SC — Joe Blue 1-yard run (Spence kick)
NC — Hood 6-yard run (kick blocked)
SC — Rudolph 21-yard pass to Shaq Davidson