South Carolina won its fourth consecutive bowl game Saturday for the first time in program history with a 24-21 victory over Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.
With the win, South Carolina avoided its first losing season in over a decade since Steve Spurrier took over as head coach. A loss would have handed Spurrier his first losing season since 1987, when he was in control at Duke.
South Carolina led 17-14 with just over five minutes remaining, but it was Miami who had momentum following consecutive defensive stops. A fumble from Miami star running back Duke Johnson that was recovered by redshirt sophomore Gerald Dixon changed all of that.
Redshirt senior quarterback Dylan Thompson ran it in three plays later, providing the defense a cushion it would not have the opportunity to concede.
Following a Miami touchdown drive that lasted less than two minutes, junior tailback Mike Davis provided the game-sealing run on his final drive in a Gamecock uniform. Davis finished with 55 yards on 13 carries, as well as a 15-yard touchdown reception.
Thompson threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over in his final game at the helm of the South Carolina offense.
The Gamecocks grabbed the lead for good midway through the second quarter and never relinquished it, despite brief scares of a fourth blown double digit lead this season.
Trailing 6-0 with just 78 yards of total offense through 22 minutes of play, South Carolina broke out with a 78-yard catch-and-run touchdown by sophomore receiver Pharoh Cooper.
Cooper, who finished with nine receptions for 170 yards, became the first Gamecock receiver to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Alshon Jeffery in 2010. The performance was good enough to earn Cooper offensive player of the game honors.
South Carolina pushed its lead to double digits late in the second quarter with a field goal following sophomore linebacker Jonathan Walton’s first interception of the season. Walton, who captured defensive player of the game honors, had a breakout game with several key tackles against the Hurricanes rushing attack.
The Gamecocks surrendered 186 yards rushing to Miami, 132 of which came from Johnson. However, the two turnovers forced by the South Carolina defense, as well as two early Miami drives that stalled for field goals, made all the difference.
The season-ending victory provides momentary relief from a disappointing season in Columbia. Following a losing record in conference play and a loss to Clemson for the first time in six years, the Gamecocks saw several players decommit from the 2015 recruiting class throughout December.
Time will tell whether a fourth consecutive bowl win coupled with Spurrier’s outspoken commitment to the school for the next “four to five years” can help restore the program to where it was with Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw.
For now, the team is fortunate just to enter the offseason a winner.