South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia came into Saturday night's game with 9:45 left in the first half and his team trailing East Carolina 17-0. All Garcia did was complete 7-of-15 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 56 yards and two scores on five carries as the Gamecocks rallied to win a shoot-out, 56-37, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
"We played a very good football team," ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said following the game. "I said it in all my interview requests and they really are just like I thought they were – strong on offense, defense and special teams. I told that to Coach (Spurrier) after the game."
Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 92 yards, while Marcus Lattimore rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Defensively, Antonio Allen had a career night. Allen led the team with 16 tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles, and scored a touchdown.
The two teams combined for nine turnovers and scored a combined 52 points off the turnovers. It was a tale of two halves as South Carolina turned the ball over four teams in the first half that led to 17 of ECU's 24 points. ECU's lone turnover in the half resulted in a gamecock touchdown. In the second half it was ECU that turned the ball over four times, all resulting in Gamecock touchdowns, while the Gamecocks did not turn the ball over at all.
"Against a good team like that there isn't much room for error," McNeill said. "We can't mess up and give our defense extra possessions. We put our defense in a tough position."
After winning the toss and electing to receive, Bruce Ellington took the opening kick 35 yards from the end zone to give the Gamecocks good field position. After Shaw converted on a fourth and short, Carolina methodically moved down into the red zone. After burning a timeout trying to audible, Shaw scrambled and was popped by Marke Powell on the 11-yard line and fumbled, with ECU's Chris Baker recovering.
"Connor had some tough look in there. He had a couple of deep balls – a great catch here or a barely tip there, but that's the way it happened. And he sort of got hit and fumbled once."
After trading three and outs, South Carolina took over on its 42. Lattimore got the carry on the first play and was stripped by Terry Williams, who also came away with it to set up the Pirates in Carolina territory. From there, Davis completed a third down conversion to Justin Hardy, then two plays later hit Hardy again for a 25-yard touchdown to get the Pirates on the board first. It was Hardy's first career touchdown reception.
A long Ellington return on the ensuing kickoff was called back on a penalty, and Carolina went three and out again. ECU took over on its 48 and Davis would find Lance Lewis on a jumpball over Stephon Gilmore for a 19-yard touchdown and the Gamecocks found themselves down 14.
Miles fumbled while returning the next kick, and the Pirates recovered at the 32. After driving inside the 10, Carolina's defense held tough and forced a Michael Barbour 24-yard field goal. ECU lead 17-0 six minutes into the second quarter.
Chaz Sutton muffed the short kick, fumbling it but falling on it. A 15-yard personal foul was tacked on and South Carolina took over near midfield. Garcia finally made his awaited return to the field. After missing Jeffery deep on his first play of the season, Garcia found Lattimore in the flats, who then turned it into a 20-yard gain. On the next play Garcia scrambled, lowering his head and running over a Pirate defender that ignited the Gamecock sideline and crowd.
"I was just playing the way I know how to play," Garcia said. "I'm going to get chewed out pretty hard for that first run I had, ducking my head like I did, but I just felt like we needed a little spark and I felt like I needed to do that."
Two plays later, the human battering ram scrambled 32 yards – the longest of his career - for the touchdown to get the Gamecocks on the board.
This time it was ECU's turn to fumble the kickoff with Sharrod Golightly (Sanders was given credit for it but he said it was not him) stripping it and Antonio Allen recovering. On the second play from scrimmage, Garcia found Jeffery for 21 yards down to the ECU 20. After Bruce Ellington ran 16 yards to the four out of the Wildcat, Lattimore took it into the end zone to trim the lead to 17-14.
The Gamecocks forced a three and out and had an opportunity to try and tie the game or even take the lead in the final seconds of the half, but Gilmore muffed a punt and ECU took over on the Gamecocks 29 with just over a minute left. Davis hit Hardy with consecutive passes, then hit Lewis to get inside the 10. With three seconds left, Davis hit Joe Womack who struggled his way into the end zone to give the Pirates a 24-14 halftime lead.
"We yelled for a minute and then we calmed down and said ‘hey this may be good for us to be behind at halftime,'" Spurrier said. "Our history has not been very good in coming from behind. And we need to come from behind and win some ballgames. So we just settled down a bit and said there was a lot of ball left."
Carolina would take momentum right off the bat in the third quarter. On the second play of the half, Davis hit Lewis outside the numbers, but he was stripped by Allen and Shaq Wilson recovered. Garcia hit Jeffery on a post route for 25 yards to get inside the 10, and back-to-back Wildcat plays with Ellington getting the first carry and Lattimore getting the second had the Gamecocks facing third and goal from the ECU three. Garcia rolled right and found Sanders cutting to the pylon for the touchdown.
ECU would turn the ball over again with a bad snap at the ten. After an incomplete pass, Garcia took it 10 yards on a draw for the touchdown to give Carolina their first lead of the night with 10:40 left in the third.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Allen stripped Michael Dobson and took it 25 yards to quickly push the lead to 11, 35-24. The Gamecocks scored three touchdowns in a span of 1:59 to turn a three point deficit into an 11 point lead.
ECU would have an answer with their longest sustained drive of the night up to that point. A nine-play, 80 yard drive with Davis completing four passes, including a 30-yard jumpball completion to Lewis inside the Gamecock 10. On the next play, Davis took it in himself to cut the lead back to four.
South Carolina answered right back, going on a 10-play, 59 yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Lattimore to go up 42-31.
After the two teams traded punts, ECU took over from their 34 yard-line. After a Bullock run, Davis was forced to scramble right and dumped it off right into the hands of Melvin Ingram for his first career interception. Garcia completed a 23-yard pass to Jeffery on the first play and three plays later Lattimore would score again from one yard out to take a 49-31 lead.
Spurrier's prediction that the Gamecocks would score a special teams touchdown didn't take long to come true. Sanders took a punt at the 32 and knifed his way through the defense for a 68-yard touchdown return. Wooten's extra point gave Carolina a commanding 56-31 lead.
The Pirates would have one more left in them. ECU would go 72 yards in 19 plays and did not have a single play go for more than eight yards. That's normally a good thing, but not when you're trailing by 25 points in the fourth quarter it's not. Davis finished the drive with a four yard touchdown pass to Lewis. Barbour's extra point bounced off the upright to make for the final margin.
Lewis led all receivers with 108 yards receiving and two touchdowns on 13 catches. Hardy's collegiate debut went well, hauling in 11 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Bullock rushed for 70 yards on 18 carries.
Though fairly obvious, Spurrier announced that Garcia will get the start next week.
"Stephen will start next week," Spurrier said. "He has every opportunity to be our quarterback and we'll go from there. I said we'd play a quarter each and go from there. Stephen took care of the ball very well. He got very fortunate on one throw that could have been picked. He played very well."
South Carolina travels to Athens next week to take on Georgia, a 35-21 loser to Boise State, at 4:30.
Mississippi State 59, Memphis 14 (Thursday)
Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3 (Thursday)
Auburn 42, Utah State 38
Alabama 48, Kent State 7
BYU 14, Ole Miss 13
Tennessee 42, Montana State 16
Florida 41, FAU 3
Arkansas 51, Missouri State 7
South Carolina 56, East Carolina 37
Vanderbilt 45, Elon 14
Boise State 35, Georgia 21
LSU 40, Oregon 27
Gamecocks win shootout!
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