In a game where both teams came bearing gift turnovers for the other, the University of Arkansas' last present for South Carolina proved to be the difference.
Gamecock freshman defensive back Ko Simpson capped his big day by picking off UA senior quarterback Matt Jones at his own 2 yard line as the visiting Razorbacks were driving for a potential game-tying field goal with less than a minute left in the game.
Instead that pick combined with Simpson's 55-yard fumble return for a touchdown earlier in the game and Troy Williamson's 13-yard touchdown catch with 1:09 left in the game handed South Carolina a 35-32 come-from-behind victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"I haven't hurt like this in a long, long time," said Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt, whose team rallied from an 11-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to take the lead with a pair of touchdowns. "I hate to give one away and I felt like we gave one away here - just flat out gave one away."
The win was the first in four SEC home games for South Carolina (6-3, 4-3) and made the Gamecocks bowl eligible while it was the fourth straight loss for Arkansas (3-5, 1-4) and kept it in last place in the SEC's Western Division.
Jones had 246 yards total offense (136 passing, 110 rushing) while junior tailback De'Arrius Howard reemerged with 21 carries for 91 yards and a late go-ahead touchdown. Freshman wideout Marcus Monk had 7 catches for 95 yards and a score.
But despite all that the loss left the Razorbacks, who trailed 28-17 entering the fourth quarter, needing to win its last three games for a seventh straight bowl trip.
"I thought we had overcome a lot of things that went wrong, came back, but still couldn't put them away," Nutt said. "Boy, it is just a shame."
There will be a lot of talk about a play that happened immediately after Arkansas safety Vickiel Vaughn returned starting quarterback Dondrial Pinkins' interception 51 yards for a touchdown on South Carolina's first possession to put the Razorbacks up 7-0.
Arkansas kicked off and South Carolina fumbled, a loose ball that Razorbacks freshman Michael Grant jumped on to apparently set up the Razorbacks at the Gamecocks' 25-yard with a chance to jump ahead 14-0.
But a referee's inadvertent whistle had the UA kicking off again instead of sending its offense on the field.
"It was a terrible, terrible call and I am just going to go ahead and say it," Nutt said. "It was absolutely awful. That's our ball. It hit his hands and falls down and falls out of his hands. That's a fumble. It should be 14-0 right there."
Arkansas had three turnovers on the day, two Jones' interceptions and a fumble by freshman Peyton Hillis that went through Jones' hands during a mad scramble and into those of Simpson, who raced untouched into the end zone.
Instead of a possible 24-14 Arkansas lead, South Carolina suddenly had a 21-17 advantage with 9:55 left in the third quarter.
"You can't have turnovers and we just gave up too many," Nutt said. "And they got seven points free."
South Carolina's lead became 28-17 on the next possession when Jones' pass was then picked off by Taqiy Muhammad and returned 35 yards. That set up back-up quarterback Syvelle Newton's 5-yard touchdown run and Brown's PAT at the 5:50 mark.
Arkansas refused to give up and rallied with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give itself a chance to win.
The first was on a Jones' 13-yard touchdown pass to Monk , which combined with Jones' two-point pass to DeCori Birmingham to cut it to 28-25 with 13:15 left.
Elliott Harris then blocked Brown's punt and Arkansas roared in behind the running of Howard, whose 7-yard scoring run combined with Chris Balseiro's PAT gave the Razorbacks a 32-28 lead with 3:40 left in the contest.
But Newton led South Carolina on an 8-play, 62-yard drive in just over two minutes to take the game back from Arkansas.
Williamson took Newton's short pass in the flats, shed Vaughn, and raced into the end zone with 1:09 left. Brown's PAT put the Gamecocks up 35-32.
A celebration penalty that forced SC to kick off from its own 20 and Birmingham's 27-yard return set up Arkansas at its own 37.
Jones raced 16 yards to the Gamecocks' 47, but his heave downfield was picked off by Simpson and ended the Razorbacks' hopes.
"I've got a really down locker room right here, boy," Nutt said. "...It's just hard to talk about."
South Carolina took advantage of the referee's gift on the inadvertent whistle, getting two big plays from Williamson in what turned into a 7-play, 79-yard touchdown drive.
Williamson caught a pass for 28 yards and following a 27-yard rush by running back Demitrus Summers, he came back with a 18 yard dash on a reverse.
Arkansas stiffened near the goal line, but Pinkins capped the drive with a two-yard quarterback draw for the touchdown with 9:49 remaining in the first quarter. Brown's PAT deadlocked it 7-7.
Jones showed he was indeed as healthy as he has been in awhile with his elusiveness and speed on the next UA possession.
He dashed for 36 yards to convert a 3rd-and-9 and capped the 10-play 80-yard drive by getting to the corner and kicking the pylon as he went by for a 7-yard touchdown run.
Balserio's PAT with 3:16 left surged Arkansas ahead 14-7, but that would be wiped out on South Carolina's next possession.
The Gamecocks ripped off 73 yards in 10 plays with Pinkins' 24-yard run on the opening play a key as well as Summers' 20-yard, tackle-breaking run on a reverse setting up the score.
Daccus Thurman has the honors with two straight 3-yard carries, the last one resulting in a touchdown with 13:43 left in the second quarter and Brown's PAT knotting it up 14-14.
Arkansas took a big gamble on its last drive of the first half, going for it on 4th-and-3 from the South Carolina 49. Jones got that with ease on a 5-yard option keeper.
The Razorbacks appeared ready to bust into the end zone after the senior QB hit Monk for a 24-yard gain that set up the UA on South Carolina's 18.
But a holding penalty stymied the momentum and Arkansas ended up coming around with just three points on Balserio's 32-yard boot that put the visitors ahead 17-14 with 1:42 left before intermission.
Arkansas will return to action next Saturday when it hosts Ole Miss in an 11:30 a.m. game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Houston Nutt watches the action in Columbia.
Matt Jones hands off against Carolina.
Photos by Tom Ewart
South Carolina 35, Arkansas 32
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