CHARLOTTE, NC Sept. 3, 2015 – After an offseason filled with anticipation, the 2015 South Carolina football season kicked off Thursday evening in Charlotte as South Carolina (1-0) defeated North Carolina (0-1) 17-13 in the Belk College Kickoff game at Bank of America Stadium.
A healthy dose of the running game would power the Gamecocks all night as the Gamecocks rushed for 254 yards with Shon Carson coming up with the big run of the night with a 48-yard carry for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks would also make key plays on the defensive end with three turnovers including a pair of interceptions in the end zone by junior linebacker Skai Moore.
The Tar Heels returned nine starters to a potent 2014 offense, and were moving the ball well on the opening drive. They would stall inside the Gamecocks 10-yard line though, and on third and goal quarterback Marquise Williams went for a shot in the back of the end zone, but Skai Moore stepped in front of it to snuff out the scoring drive. It was the junior linebacker’s eighth career interception.
South Carolina’s ensuing drive took them to midfield, and Sean Kelly followed up a successful fake punt earlier in the drive to pin the Heels at their own 9-yard line. It would not faze them, as the offense went the 91 yards in just five plays and a little over a minute to open the games scoring on a 21-yard pass over the middle from Williams to Bug Howard.
To respond, the Gamecocks turned to the ground game early, with Pharoh Cooper running the Wildcat and Brandon Wilds grinding out first downs. Connor Mitch would connect on his first completion of the game on a 16-yard screen out to Jerell Adams, then went for 20 more to Brandon Wilds to get them to the opponent’s 25. Wilds and Cooper would carry it down to the nine before the end of the first quarter, and facing third-and-five, Mitch connected with Cooper on a slant over the middle to tie the game up at 7-7. After starting the game 0-for-5 passing, Mitch closed out the drive with three straight completions for 45 yards and his first career touchdown pass.
A field goal drive for North Carolina would put it back up 10-7, but Mitch kept a hot hand to drive the Garnet and Black back down the field. Showing a higher level of confidence in his arm, Mitch would also show off his ground game on the drive, with runs of 15 and nine yards and a pair of first downs. The Gamecocks would not be able to cash in with a touchdown, but Elliott Fry knocked home a 25-yard field goal to tie the game back up at 10 with seven minutes to go before halftime.
Another North Carolina drive would be halted by the Gamecocks’ defense on the very next drive. After taking the ball all the way down to the South Carolina 15, the Tar Heels faced a third-and five. Kelsey Griffin and Darius English would find daylight up the middle, with Griffin making the initial contact. The sack would force another field goal, but it allowed North Carolina to take a 13-10 lead to halftime.
The Gamecocks kicked off to start the third quarter, and quickly saw the defense provide another sizable momentum shift. After picking up nine yards on its first two plays, the Tar Heels were stuffed for no gain on third down at their own 34. They would hurry back to the line and tried to push through the final inches on fourth down, but penetration from Marquavius Lewis and Taylor Stallworth would force a turnover on downs.
The Gamecocks defense would come through again on their next drive, when Isaiah Johnson hammered UNC’s Howard after it appeared that he caught a potential first down on third and 15. It forced the Tar Heels’ first punt of the game with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter.
A bend-but-don’t-break defense would hold to form on the next drive as well. A 44-yard run from Elijah Hood brought UNC all the way to the Carolina 20, but two plays later Jordan Diggs stepped in front of an out-route to keep it a 13-10 game.
The resilient defense buoyed an offense that struggled to find consistency in the third quarter. It would find intermittent success with the Wildcat on a drive late in the third quarter, but a penalty on the Gamecocks would push them just out of range of what could have been the tying field goal.
It would not faze the defense, who overcame a long run to open UNC’s drive at the end of the quarter to force its second punt in the third. Facing third and three, Kelsey Griffin motored down Marquise Williams as he rolled out to the left, moving the game to the fourth quarter still locked in at 13-10.
That score would not last long, as the run game was reignited for the Gamecocks. Two runs from David Williams would give them a first down across midfield, and Shon Carson would be the exclamation point. He took a shotgun sweep handoff and went 48 yards virtually untouched to give Carolina its first lead of the game.
With the Gamecock faithful getting rowdy in the stands, the defense remained locked in and forced a quick three-and-out. Perry Orth would take over the offense with 11:46 to play in the game, after Connor Mitch went to the locker room with an undisclosed injury.
Carson would take much of the pressure off him early in the drive, carrying for 27 yards on the first three plays of the drive. Orth would join in the fun to pick up a key first down with his legs and get the Gamecocks in the red zone, but the offense would miss out on fourth and inches at the UNC 12 to give the Tar Heels possession with nine minutes left to play.
The UNC defense was finally able to solve Carolina’s defense and quickly moved into the red zone with a chance to take back the lead. The shortened field would come to the aid of the Gamecocks, who were able to blanket the Tar Heel receivers and force a third and goal at the three. Dante Sawyer would pull down Williams for his first career sack and force a timeout with fourth down at the eight-yard line and just 3:40 on the clock.
In a mirror image of his play in the first quarter, Skai Moore would step in front of a pass right in the end zone to end the threat. With momentum from the turnover, South Carolina would run out the clock to seal the victory.
Shon Carson took his first carry of the game 48 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, giving the Gamecocks their first lead of the night at 17-13. He would run for a team-leading 75 yards total in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina won the turnover battle with three turnovers including a pair of interceptions by junior linebacker Skai Moore in the end zone. The Gamecocks are now 45-4 in the Spurrier era when committing fewer turnovers than the opponent.
- South Carolina is 81-37-4 in 122 season openers with head coach Steve Spurrier 24-2 all-time in season openers as a collegiate head coach as well as 10-1 in season openers since taking over South Carolina
- Steve Spurrier now owns a 6-0 career record vs. North Carolina. He was 3-0 as head coach at Duke (1987-89) and is now 3-0 against North Carolina as head coach of the Gamecocks
- This was the first time since 2011 that the Gamecocks were held scoreless in the first quarter of a season opener. The last time it came against East Carolina, in a game also played in Charlotte. The Gamecocks also won that contest.
- After his second-quarter make, Fry is now 11-for-11 on field goals inside the 30
- Pharoh Cooper’s 3rd reception moves him into the top-25 in career receptions, with 75 for the Garnet & Black.
- In his South Carolina debut, punter Sean Kelly was outstanding. He averaged 46.2 yards over 5 punts, including a long of 60 that was the team’s best punt since Joey Scribner-Howard’s 60-yard punt on October 15, 2011 at Mississippi State
- The game’s paid attendance was announced as 51,664
South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier
I think the football Gods smiled on the Gamecocks. Coach Hoke and all of the defensive coaches did a good job keeping them (from scoring touchdowns).
We’re very fortunate, have a lot to correct. I think North Carolina is a good team, I think they are going to beat a lot of people.
Skai (Moore) can pick the ball off, he does it in practice all the time. He has a knack for watching the quarterback. Those are the plays that won the game.
South Carolina returns home to host Kentucky in SEC action at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 12 with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.