South Carolina’s path to bowl eligibility grew more difficult on a night when observers were introduced to Trey Adkins.
Appalachian State, taking advantage of a banged-up Gamecocks team that became more depleted after kickoff, beat USC, 20-15, on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks (4-6) now need to close the regular season with wins over Texas A&M and Clemson to become bowl eligible for a fourth straight year under coach Will Muschamp.
A last-ditch South Carolina drive ended at the App State 19-yard line.
“We knew they were a good team going in,” Muschamp said. “We needed to play better than we did. We needed to coach better than we did.”
The crowd began its evening cheering loudly for Bryan Edwards when the record-making receiver was introduced during a Senior Night ceremony. But by the second quarter, Edwards was in the medical tent because of a sprained knee and the list of available wideouts was whittled down to the likes of backup quarterbacks Dakereon Joyner and Jay Urich and Atkins, a walk-on freshman.
Adkins actually caught a pass for a 29-yard gain in the second quarter, but it served as USC’s longest gain of the game.
The Gamecocks, playing at times without five of their top six pass catchers (Edwards, Shi Smith, Josh Vann, Nick Muse and Tavien Feaster), lacked explosion against the nation’s No. 8 pass defense. Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski’s school record streak of throws without an interception ended with 1:51 left in the second quarter when Nicholas Ross picked him and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
Ross caught it after Hilinski’s pass skipped off Xavier Legette’s hands. The return gave the Mountaineers (8-1) a 13-6 lead.
Hilinski finished 32 of 57 for 325 yards, a score and that one turnover. South Carolina totaled 346 offensive yards, 112 coming on two first half drives that ended with Parker White field goals.
Edwards eventually returned to the game and was targeted twice on South Carolina’s first possession of the third quarter. He caught the second pass for no gain. A play later, White hit from 50 yards to cut the lead to 13-9. Edwards later had a 23-yard scoring reception to cut the lead to 20-15 with 2:58 left in the fourth quarter.
After a defensive stop, South Carolina got the ball back at its own 45 with 1:50 left, but were unable to score. Hilinski’s final pass was incomplete to a diving Edwards in the end zone. Had Edwards caught it, the score would have come back due to a holding penalty.
Appalachian State, ranked in both major polls before losing last week to Georgia Southern, didn’t hold much back with their shot at a second win over a Power 5 school this season. A fourth down conversion — on a pop pass — and a reverse pass attempt to the quarterback highlighted their first half antics. A shovel jet sweep to Corey Sutton set up a 1-yard TD run by Zac Thomas that put the Mountaineers up, 20-9, with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The loss is Carolina’s first at home to a non-Power 5 team since falling to The Citadel in 2015.
Star of the game: The Gamecock defense mostly did its job, especially Ernest Jones. The linebacker led the team in tackles, had a sack and made a third quarter interception that set up the last of White’s three field goals.
Play of the game: Hilinksi had thrown 180 passes without an interception — passing Connor Shaw for the longest streak in South Carolina history — before the Ross INT. The scoring return gave App State its first lead of the game — and momentum going into halftime.
Stat of the game: South Carolina finished with 21 rushing yards on 27 attempts.
Who: South Carolina at Texas A&M
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16
Where: Kyle Field
TV: SEC Network