Five-point underdogs at kickoff. Ahead 7-0 13 seconds into the game. Tied and wobbling at halftime. Up 14 points and running away with the game at end of the third quarter. Holding on for dear life at the 10-yard line in the end.
South Carolina (1-0) packed a lot into its first football game of the season, emerging with a 35-28 victory over N.C. State in front of 50,367 in Bank of America Stadium.
“I am just really proud of how our guys fought,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “We played a really good football team. N.C. State is a really good football team.”
The Wolfpack ran 99 offensive plays and outgained the Gamecocks 504 to 246 yards, but South Carolina never trailed. In the game’s final 5 minutes, the Gamecocks defense stopped N.C. State on fourth down at the USC 30-yard line and again at the USC 10-yard line.
Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley, who was 45-for-64 passing for 415 yards, had two throws into the end zone in the final 15 seconds, but both fell incomplete.
USC sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley was 17-for-29 passing for 215 yards and tied his career high with three touchdowns.
Star of the game: South Carolina junior wide receiver Deebo Samuel was expected to be good this year. He was great his first time out. Samuel opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and followed up with two touchdown catches after having only one touchdown reception last season. He finished Saturday with five catches for 83 yards.
Play of the game: Samuel’s second touchdown catch was a one-handed grab that came after Bentley avoided a blitzing N.C. State defender and raced toward his right before heaving the ball 50 yards in the air to the back right corner of the end zone, where a sprinting Samuel hauled it in with his left hand. “If he hadn’t caught that ball, I think I would have killed him,” Bentley said.
Stat of the game: South Carolina’s defense didn’t play great at times, but ended up recording 11 tackles-for-loss and forcing two turnovers, which ended up making a difference. Defensive end Dante Sawyer, who forced both of the fumbles, sacked Finley and forced a fumble that set up a 14-yard USC touchdown drive in the third quarter. The Gamecocks averaged six tackles-for-loss per game last season.
Headset hangups: South Carolina’s headset connection from the press box to the sideline didn’t work when the game began, forcing offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to leave the press box in the first quarter and call the game from the sideline. By rule, when one team’s headsets are out of order, the other team cannot use them, so both of N.C. State’s coordinators also returned to the field. The headset issue was fixed at halftime, and Roper returned to the press box. “That’s the first time in 20 years of coaching I’ve had that happen,” Muschamp said.
Thanks, Pack: N.C. State’s offense moved the ball almost at will in the first half, but a boatload of Wolfpack mistakes let South Carolina go to the halftime locker room tied at 21. In the first 30 minutes, N.C. State allowed a 97-yard kickoff return, missed a 29-yard field goal, fumbled the ball away in its own territory and committed four penalties for 35 yards. The Wolfpack had eight penalties for 85 yards for the game.
Good start: On the first play of the 2017 season, Samuel took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown that put the Gamecocks ahead 7-0 with 14:47 left in the first quarter. It was South Carolina’s first kickoff return for a touchdown since Samuel took one 100 yards against Western Carolina last season. Samuel is tied for the school’s career record for kickoff returns for a touchdown with two.
Who: South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Missouri (1-0, 0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 9
Where: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium; Columbia, Mo.
Radio: 107.5 FM
SC: Samuel 97 kickoff return (Woznick kick), 14:47
NCST: Finley 6 run (Wise kick), 8:56
SC: Dowdle 34 pass from Bentley (Woznick kick), 3:53
NCST: Hines 2 run (Wise kick), :46
SC: Samuel 6 pass from Bentley (Woznick kick), 10:02
NCST: Meyers 4 pass from Finley (Wise kick), :09
SC: Samuel 39 pass from Bentley (Woznick kick), 11:54
SC: Dowdle 7 run (Woznick kick), 9:08
NCST: Samuels 1 pass from Finley (Wise kick), 12:21
Time of Possession
RUSHING: NC State, Hines 15-81, Gallaspy 13-27, Samuels 1-9, Louis 1-(minus 6), Finley 5-(minus 22). South Carolina, Dowdle 12-27, Samuel 1-5, Turner 1-2, Bentley 5-1, (Team) 2-(minus 4).
PASSING: NC State, Finley 45-64-0-415. South Carolina, Bentley 17-29-1-215.
RECEIVING: NC State, Samuels 15-85, Harmon 10-114, Meyers 5-62, Louis 5-39, Hines 4-32, C.Riley 2-27, Gallaspy 2-13, Cook 1-29, Emezie 1-14. South Carolina, Samuel 5-83, Edwards 5-55, S.Smith 3-23, Dowdle 2-51, T.Williams 1-5, Hurst 1-(minus 2).
MISSED FIELD GOALS: NC State, Wise 29.