It took South Carolina all of 13 seconds to record its first touchdown of the 2017 season – when Deebo Samuel ran the opening kickoff back 97 yards through a scrum of red and white jerseys – and that momentum ultimately held through the team’s 35-28 win over N.C. State in the Belk College Kickoff on Saturday.
But the Wolfpack did not crumble. Quarterback Ryan Finley, now in his second season as the team’s starter, led the offense methodically down the field before scrambling 6 yards for an equalizing touchdown. The scoring see-saw was officially underway, and it would carry for the rest of the first half.
It wasn’t until the third quarter, with the score tied at 21, that South Carolina permanently look the lead. Quarterback Jake Bentley, who finished the game with 215 yards passing and three touchdowns, escaped from N.C. State’s menacing defensive line and scrambled to his right, looking for options. He found a streaking Samuel in the back corner of the end zone, and the junior wide receiver hauled in the 39-yard touchdown ... on the run ... with his left hand.
On the Wolfpack’s next drive, Linley fumbled in his own red zone, gifting the Gamecocks a chance to extend their lead. Two plays later they did, when Rico Dowdle – who also caught a 34-yard touchdown in the first quarter – burst through the lines for a 7-yard score.
N.C. State never withered and even had a chance to tie the game with less than 10 seconds left, but an incompletion from Finley on fourth down from 10 yards out sealed the result.
Three who mattered
Deebo Samuel: In addition to his kickoff return for a touchdown, he caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Ryan Finley: He didn’t quite get 300 yards passing in the first half (296), but his final line – 45-of-64, 415 yards and two touchdowns – was one of the more impressive for either team.
Dante Sawyer: He was a one-man wrecking crew tearing through the Wolfpack offensive line. He finished with a sack, 1 1/2 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.
▪ Preseason All-America defensive end Bradley Chubb had an impressive start for the Wolfpack, recording a 2-yard tackle for loss on his first play of the game. He finished with five tackles, including two for loss, and a pass breakup.
▪ For as impressive as the Gamecocks were, the Wolfpack outgained them 504 yards to 248 yards. A good amount of those went to Kelvin Harmon, who had 10 catches for 114 yards.
▪ N.C. State’s kicking woes from last season – the team missed three field goals in a potential upset win over eventual national champion Clemson in October – are back. Carson Wise dinked a 29-yard try off the left upright in the second quarter.
▪ Several NFL teams sent scouts, including Washington and Baltimore. Both could use a player like Chubb on their defensive lines.
▪ It’s now been 117 years since the schools first played football. As for who won those first two contests in 1900? The Gamecocks won both by a combined score of 29-5.
▪ The last time they met was in 1999, when the Gamecocks went into Raleigh and won 7-3.
▪ Saturday was the second time in three years that South Carolina has beaten an ACC opponent in Charlotte in its season opener, the other being North Carolina in 2015.
They said it
“We put in something basically to get to the left, and we opened up a crease.” – Samuel on what he saw during his 97-yard opening kickoff return touchdown.
“If he would’ve dropped that pass in the end zone, I might’ve killed him, but an unbelievable catch and an unbelievable play.” – Bentley on Samuel’s one-handed grab in the back of the end zone.
“Their front seven is as good as we’ll see this year.” – South Carolina coach Will Muschamp on N.C. State’s defense.
“The turnovers, there’s no excuse ... First thing we do at practice every day is a turnover circuit for both sides of the ball.” – N.C. State coach Dave Doeren on what went wrong for his team.