South Carolina rallies from 12 down to beat Vols 27-24
By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Jake Bentley lay on the field after a hard hit on his game-tying two-point …
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COLUMBIA - The University of South Carolina football team found itself playing from behind for most of the night in its game against Tennessee on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. Yet when the final second went off the clock, it was the Gamecocks who came away with a 27-24 victory.
The win improved the Gamecocks to 4-3 on the season and evened their Southeastern Conference Eastern Division record at 3-3.
“I think any time you work extremely hard and put a lot into something, you’ve got to have some positive results from it,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “Our guys work hard, our guys practice the right way, they prepare the right way. They invest the way you’re supposed to invest.
“This league is tough,” Muschamp said. “It’s tough week in and week out getting wins, and we do what we have to do to win the football game. Certainly, anytime you invest and get a return, it helps in confidence.”
The loss dropped Tennessee to 1-3 in the SEC and 3-4 overall.
Gamecock junior quarterback Jake Bentley finished 11 for 16 through the air for 152 yards, a touchdown against an interception.
“The interception happened, but you can’t get too high emotionally,” Bentley said. “Touchdowns happen, but you can’t get too high emotionally. I thought I did a great job, I thought our whole offense did a great job of staying patient, staying locked in, trusting the game plan, never quitting, believing in one another and just playing the whole game.”
On the ground, junior running back Rico Dowdle rushed 14 times for 140 yards and a touchdown, and junior running back Ty’Son Williams, a product of Crestwood High School who started over Dowdle on Saturday, ran the ball 13 times for 38 yards and a score.
“I didn’t take any offense to it,” Dowdle said on not starting. “Like I’ve said before, all of our running backs are talented, and we all have the ability to start. We all have our strengths, and we just use our abilities to help out the team in any way we can.
Coach made the choice to start Ty’Son tonight, and that is his decision, so I did not take it as a slap in the face or anything like that,” Dowdle said.
Through the air, junior wide receiver Bryan Edwards caught three passes for 96 yards, including a career-long 73-yard catch, and senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel caught three passes for a modest eight yards, but one of those catches went for a score.
Both teams started off slow offensively. On South Carolina’s second drive, Bentley had a pass batted into the air at the line and it was intercepted by Tennessee senior defensive lineman Shy Tuttle.
This led to a Tennessee touchdown, a 5-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to junior tight end Eli Wolf. Sophomore placekicker Brent Cimaglia tacked on the extra point to make it 7-0 with 4:53 to go in the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive for South Carolina, a 25-yard run by Dowdle got the Gamecocks to the Volunteer 5-yard line, but they were unable to punch it in and had to settle for a 19-yard field goal from sophomore placekicker Parker White to cut the lead to 7-3 with 37 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Both teams punted on their ensuing drive, but Tennessee controlled the ball for over half of the second quarter on its next possession. Starting at its 29 with 10:04 to go in the first half, the Vols ended up eating almost eight minutes of clock. The Volunteers capped off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Guarantano to junior wide receiver Jauan Jennings with 2:11 to go before the half. Cimaglia’s extra point put Tennessee up 14-3.
South Carolina countered with its own touchdown -- in much quicker fashion -- a 3-yard touchdown from Bentley to Samuel on a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone with 49 seconds to go before halftimef. However, White’s extra point was blocked to leave the score at 14-9 at halftime.
Tennessee got the ball to start the second half and drove down the field in just under five minutes, finishing it off with a 14-yard touchdown run from junior running back Carlin Fils-aime with 10:02 to go in the third quarter. Cimaglia’s extra point was true to put Tennessee up 21-9.
South Carolina answered this time as well, again in quick fashion. The drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from Dowdle with 8:05 to go in the third quarter. White’s extra point was good to cut the Tennessee lead to 21-16.
Tennessee went on another clock-consuming drive that lasted over six minutes, but this time the Gamecocks kept it out of the end zone. The Volunteers had to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Cimaglia to extend its lead to 24-16.
South Carolina again wasted little time answering Tennessee. Bentley went deep to Edwards for a gain of 73 yards to the Volunteer 2.
“It’s kind of one of those missed opportunities,” Edwards said of not scoring on the play. “I kind of wish I would’ve gotten in there.”
Three plays later, Williams punched it in from one yard out with five seconds to go in the third quarter. Bentley ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 24-24.
The Gamecock defense came up big on Tennessee’s next drive and forced the Volunteers to punt.
On South Carolina’s next possession, junior running back Mon Denson ran the ball six times to help get the Gamecocks to the Tennessee 15-yard-line. Bentley completed a 7-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Josh Vann on third down and 10 to go, which set up a 25-yard field goal attempt for White. He made the kick and put the Gamecocks up 27-24 with 5:52 to go in the game.
Tennessee got a chance to tie the game, but junior defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum, who was playing his first game since suffering an ankle injury in the season opener against Coastal Carolina, sacked Guarantano on fourth down and ten yards to go with 1:08 to go in the game.
“It was very hard, but I stayed positive through the process,” Wonnum said on having to sit out for a good portion of the season. “I worked, got my ankle back, I kept practicing and kept getting stronger, and I’m ready to play.”
Despite Tennessee having three timeouts, the Gamecocks were able to run the clock out thanks to a 30-yard run from Dowdle and Bentley running the game clock down to under 40 seconds on third down and 12 to exhaust the play clock and seal the victory.
The Gamecocks will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, next Saturday to take on Mississippi – 1-3 in the SEC West and 5-3 overall – at noon.
“Our guys understand going on the road and how to play,” Muschamp said. “We’re going to enjoy the night and look forward to those opportunities down the road.”
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