South Carolina traveled to Greenville, North Carolina, this weekend and came home with a 20-17 victory over the East Carolina Pirates.
After trailing 14-0 early, nothing seemed to be going South Carolina’s way. All over Twitter, fans were clamoring for sophomore quarterback Luke Doty to come in and how it was the same old Gamecocks football team. But, to end the first half, fifth year linebacker Damani Staley picked up a 63-yard pick six. After that, the Gamecock's defense was shut down, and freshman running back JuJu McDowell pounded the ground.
Before the game, graduate transfer quarterback Zeb Noland was announced as the starter for his second consecutive game. Doty sat out due to soreness.
“The soreness is the issue with him right now. He would be good for a few plays. After that, some of that soreness would kick in,” head coach Shane Beamer said. “We feel fully confident that he’ll be 100% for next week.”
The Pirates opened the game with a 75-yard flea-flicker touchdown by sophomore wide receiver Tyler Snead.
South Carolina’s secondary recovered, though, as East Carolina could not air the ball out successfully for much more of the game, ending the afternoon with 152 cumulative passing yards.
The same could be said about South Carolina’s passing game, as it couldn't seem to get anything working in the first half. Zeb Noland was sacked three times, all off the edge of the offensive line.
East Carolina took a 14-0 lead before a Damani Staley pick-six, led by fifth-year pass rusher Aaron Sterling. This would be Staley’s first collegiate touchdown, giving the Gamecocks all the momentum at the break.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Staley said. “It felt great to celebrate with my teammates, celebrate with my coach.”
The Gamecocks came out of the second half forcing two consecutive three-and-outs for the Pirates. South Carolina’s defense stepped up when it was needed the most, finishing the Pirates’ day with a 2-15 clip on third downs.
To end the third quarter, Noland began to find his form. The final drive of the third quarter began with a senior Josh Vann 45-yard catch. He got the next two targets, as well, dropping a ball in the corner of the endzone, and forcing a defensive pass interference.
After a frustrating past couple of years, Vann finished with five catches and 91 yards.
“It really is a proud moment for myself. I shed a couple tears after the game because I’m just thankful,” Vann said.
Redshirt junior Dakereon Joyner climbed the latter to tie the game up for the Gamecocks a couple plays later. The teams traded field goals, giving the Gamecocks the ball with 4 minutes 54 seconds remaining, after another Pirate three-and-out.
McDowell had double-digit yard run after double-digit yard run, leading to a redshirt senior kicker Parker White game-winning 35-yard field goal. McDowell finished the afternoon with 71 yards on 11 rushes, ultimately pushing Carolina to the win in the final minutes. South Carolina outscored the Pirates in the second half, 13-3.
“Deep down, [McDowell] got that dog in him,” JJ Enagbare said. “He's probably one of the smallest people on our team. He play like he’s the biggest; talk like the biggest.”
South Carolina will open SEC play on the road next weekend at Georgia. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.