Mother Nature put on a show Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Michael Scarnecchia stole it.
South Carolina’s senior quarterback made his first career start against Missouri, survived an hour-long monsoon, an hour-long lightning delay and a 57-yard field goal that gave Missouri the lead with 1:18 remaining to lead the Gamecocks to a 37-35 win over the Tigers that set a high bar for oddity and drama.
“We’ve always had confidence in Mike,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “He did a fantastic job. I’m extremely proud of him.”
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Scarnecchia had attempted 13 passes in his career when he awoke Saturday morning with the knowledge that he likely would have to replace the injured Jake Bentley, who had started 24 straight games but injured his knee against Kentucky last week. The Gamecocks (3-2 overall, 2-2 SEC) made the final decision to go with Scarnecchia during warmups, and he responded by completing 20-of-35 passes for 249 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We expected that,” linebacker Sherrod Greene said of Scarnecchia’s play.
Scarnecchia looked in command of the offense throughout the game, but his biggest moment came with 1:18 remaining after Missouri’s Tucker McCann had hit a 57-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead 35-34. After taking over at the Gamecocks 31-yard line, Scarnecchia took South Carolina 53 yards in 1:16 to set up a 33-yard game-winning field goal from Parker White with two seconds remaining.
The biggest play on Scarnecchia’s game-winning drive was a 27-yard completion to tight end Kyle Markway, a Missouri native.
“They only had two guys over to the right and no one carried (Markway) vertical when he went, and I was like, ‘Hold on a second,’ and then just threw it because nobody went with him,” Scarnecchia said.
White hit field goals from 42, 42 and 33 yards on Saturday. All three took the Gamecocks from trailing to leading.
“When I saw that ball to Markway, it clicked in, ‘OK this is real, I’ve got to get ready to go,’” White said.
White spent the lightning delay drying out his shoes on a fan and changing socks that were soaked during the third quarter downpour.
“My socks weighed like 10 pounds,” he said.
While the game was never stopped during the downpour that soaked White’s socks, it was stopped for one hour and 16 minutes late in the fourth quarter due to lightning in the area. At the time, 2:35 remained in the game and Missouri was driving toward what would become McCann’s 57-yard field goal, but the gravity of the moment didn’t faze Scarnecchia.
“I just relaxed, laid back and chilled and ate my homemade peanut butter sandwich,” he said.
Scarnecchia, who is bound for law school when his football career is finished, was named the team’s outstanding student-athlete last season.
“He never changes. Mike’s the same all the time,” Muschamp said. “He’s extremely intelligent, always seems to be in a good mood, upbeat. He handled the moment extremely well.”
Scarnecchia finished the day with a passer rating of 145.2, which would rank seventh in the SEC for the season, and is higher than Bentley’s season rating of 131.1.
“It’s been a real long time since I got a chance to play,” Scarnecchia said. “It was emotional from that standpoint. I stuck it out. Things didn’t always go my way, but that’s OK because there’s a bigger picture and that’s the team. When my opportunity got called, I was ready. I was confident, and I wanted to give my team everything I’ve got.”
The Gamecocks needed every bit of it Saturday.