South Carolina recruits shine in Shrine win
After an unseasonably warm week for team practices, the weather turned wet and miserably cold Saturday, with the temperature dropping as the game progressed, and a steady drizzle adding to the uncomfortable environment at Wofford's Gibbs Stadium. The fans that came to watch were remarkably faithful, despite the weather, and the Gamecock fans couldn't lose watching the Shrine Bowl Saturday. There were five future Gamecocks playing for the Sandlappers and one for the Tarheels, as well as a number of uncommitted players from both squads who still have the Gamecocks among their finalists.
Frequently, all-star games lack intensity, but not the game on Saturday. Every time South Carolina seemed to be pulling away, North Carolina would mount a comeback, and the game was not decided until time expired as North Carolina fumbled the ball on their own 37. North Carolina was trailing 31-17 with less than three minutes left, when Tarheel linebacker Austin Johnson scooped up a JJ Booker fumble and returned it 52 yards to the S.C. 3-yard line. Tobias Palmer then ran it in the next play, cutting the lead to 31-24 with 2:26 remaining. The Tarheels attempted an onside kick but South Carolina recovered the ball. The Sandlappers were forced to punt, and successfully pinned North Carolina at its own 7-yard line with 1:06 left in the game. North Carolina advanced the ball to the 37-yard line where Tony Foster fumbled as time expired.
The game almost ended with some Sandlapper fireworks when Gamecock commitment Charles Whitlock returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the play was called back due to a pass interference penalty called on another Sandlapper player. Whitlock said, "I have three days left of high school, and then I report to USC in January. Coach Spurrier told me I have a real good chance to start if I come in there and work my tail off."
Whitlock noted there were several Clemson commitments with him on the team, and he said he told them, "‘Ya'll are Gamecocks right now, playing for the South Carolina team.' They didn't want to hear that." Whitlock said he was encouraging his Shrine Bowl teammates who are uncommitted but being recruited by the Gamecocks to join him in Columbia.
Bruce Taylor has been committed to Virginia Tech for a long time, but South Carolina is still working the Myrtle Beach linebacker for a visit. He made a one-yard visit to the end zone as a running back to give the Sandlappers their first points of the game. After a 31 yard field goal by Ryan Fowler, the Sandlappers took an early 10-0 lead. In the second quarter, NC quarterback Thomas Wilson hit a wide open Taylor Gentry for a 47-yard catch and run score, to cut the lead to 10-7. The crucial play of the game probably occurred with 1:32 left in the half on a third and goal play from the 2-yard line, when Sterling Lucas intercepted Wilson's pass in the end zone and returned it out to the 19-yard line, ending the Tarheels threat.
Lucas was almost an unknown entity coming into the week, but the Orangeburg linebacker had a solid showing all week in practice, and had a game-high eight tackles in addition to the interception, and he later made a fumble recovery. His performance earned him the defensive MVP Saturday. College recruiters are already taking notice. He received an offer from Michigan State this week and is also expecting one from NC State. The Gamecocks are also giving Lucas consideration. He plans to make a decision after his official visits in January.
The Tarheels finally went up 14-10 and took their only lead, with 5:59 left in the third quarter. South Carolina responded with two quick scores. Blythewood quarterback Richard Mounce, who was named the SC Offensive MVP for the game, hit receiver AJ Green for 34 yards, followed by a 42 yard reception by Jaron Brown for a touchdown and a 17-14 lead. Brown is being heavily courted by the Gamecocks, who want him to join his former high school teammate Cliff Matthews at Carolina. Brown made several catches that were reminiscent of former South Carolina great Sidney Rice, out-jumping two and three NC defenders and coming down with the ball over and over. He made good yardage after the catch as well. Mounce has committed to Clemson to play baseball.
The Tarheels fumbled the kickoff after Brown's touchdown, and Lucas recovered it at the NC 37-yard line. Quarterback Reid McCollum, another Gamecock commitment, had a rough day early with two interceptions, but he went to work quickly after the Lucas recovery, hitting Jordan Lyles for a 17-yard gain; and then after being sacked on the next play, he connected with Green in the end zone on a 17-yard score, giving the Sandlappers a 24-14 lead.
The Tarheels narrowed the margin to 24-17 when Casey Barth nailed a 34-yard field goal with 12:59 left in the game. South Carolina went three and out on its next possession, but North Carolina did not get a first down with a chance to tie the game. The Sandlapper running game had been shut down for much of the game by the Tarheels defense, but J.J. Booker ran 31 yards untouched into the end zone, for a 31-17 Sandlapper edge with 7:41 left.
The South Carolina team had dedicated their game to the coach who had previously been named to coach them, David Farnham, of Blue Ridge High School in Greer. Farnham was diagnosed with cancer in October, and died on Nov. 28. South Carolina's win broke a two-game losing streak, and the Sandlappers now lead the series, 39-28-4.
McCollum's favorite target in high school also joined him on the Shrine Bowl team, Georgia commitment A.J. Green, who had four catches for 108 yards. He also had 50 yards in returns.
Highly recruited lineman Kenneth Page of Columbia also had a fumble recovery.
Another South Carolina commitment that had a noteworthy game was defensive tackle Kenny Davis of Newberry. He disrupted a number of plays in the Tarheel backfield early on. Gamecock commitment Jay Spearman played quarterback at Greenwood High, but played safety for the first time since his 10th grade season on Saturday and looked comfortable doing so. He's expected to play either safety or cornerback for USC. Linebacker Devin Taylor of Beaufort is one of Carolina's top remaining defensive targets, and he had several key tackles early in the game.
Gamecock commitment T.J. Johnson of Aynor, was having a noteworthy game before breaking a bone in his left ankle in the first half. He is expected to recover in about six weeks.
The North Carolina defensive MVP award went to safety Justin Venable, but he barely edged out linebacker Kevin Reddick, who finished with seven tackles, including 4.5 for losses and a sack, and a forced fumble. Reddick is also being recruited by the Gamecocks. New Bern's Reddick said earlier this week that "(North) Carolina is on top right now, but I have South Carolina right behind."
Another North Carolina player being heavily recruited by the Gamecocks, who could have been the MVP for his stellar play, was Thomasville's E.J. Abrams-Ward, who recovered a fumble and made a 17 yard interception return for NC. "I made the tackle a little bit, got my hand in there," Abrams-Ward said. "And then just boop - it just popped out."
USC commitment Reggie Bowens saw limited playing time due to a sprained shoulder suffered in practice this week. "I only saw limited playing time, but I still gave it my all." Bowens had an impressive special teams stop when he stopped cold a Sandlapper kickoff return that looked about to break loose.
North Carolina ran the ball well behind the blocking of 6'7" lineman R.J. Mattes. He and Nick Becton are two more Tarheel players being recruited by South Carolina, and both had a solid week of practice and good game performances. Terry Sanford's Dwayne Allen had one catch for 12 yards. Allen told GamecockAnthem this week that the Gamecocks are still strong contenders for his services.
One final Tarheel player being courted by USC is 305 pound offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper of Wilmington. He plans to take an official visit to South Carolina in January.
The replay of the game will be aired on CSS one December 25 at 2 pm, and at 12 noon the day after Christmas. Gamecock fans can tape the broadcast to see some of the presents the Carolina coaches have been recruiting for them, but they can't be played with until next fall.
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