In one of the most highly contested rivalries in college sports, the South Carolina Gamecocks lead the Clemson Tigers 4-2 in the fifth edition of the Palmetto Series, presented by the South Carolina Education Lottery.
The Palmetto Series pits South Carolina and Clemson teams across all sports against each other, and each victory gives the winning school a point in the overall contest. Wins in football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s cross country have helped the Gamecocks in the pursuit of a fifth straight title in the competition’s history.
“No matter the sport that we play when the Gamecocks and Tigers get together, with the Palmetto Series, (we're) celebrating the fun, the excitement (and) the rivalry,” Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. “Intense at times, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate what both schools engage in.”
This fall, the Palmetto Series rivalry was defined by the South Carolina football team’s 31-30 upset victory over then-No. 8 Clemson at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 26. The Gamecocks’ victory marked the first Palmetto Bowl win over the Tigers since 2013 and snapped both Clemson’s seven-game win streak in the rivalry and nation-leading 40-game win streak at home.
The team’s offense — led by junior quarterback Spencer Rattler, who threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns on 25-39 passing and added another touchdown on the ground — played a significant role in the win. So did the special teams unit, which pinned the Tigers deep in its own territory and forced two key turnovers, including a fumble recovery on a punt return that sealed the victory.
“We were the feel-good story of college football (after the Tennessee game), but nobody thought we were good enough to win this game,” head football coach Shane Beamer said. “I told them in the locker room after the (Florida) game, ‘You have a chance, these next two weeks, to completely change everything with this program."
While the football team snapped streaks, the No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team continued one of its own by defeating Clemson 85-31 on Nov. 17 to make it 12 consecutive wins in the rivalry. Senior forward Aliyah Boston, senior guard Zia Cooke and freshman forward Ashlyn Watkins all scored at least 10 points, but it was Watkins’ dunk late in the game that proved to be the standout play of the night.
“I thought she was just going to put it over the rim, lay it up over the rim and she turned it over. That’s pretty impressive,” head women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley said. “I’ve seen her do it a million times, but never on this level in front of my eyes with her being on our team, so it was cool.”
The men’s basketball team contributed to South Carolina’s Palmetto Series sweep in basketball with a 60-58 win against Clemson on Nov. 11 at Colonial Life Arena. Senior guard Chico Carter led the team with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, including a two-point shot that gave the Gamecocks a lead with just 0.3 seconds remaining in the game.
“It was good to see him put his head down, embrace a little contact and just get in there and try to make a play,” head men’s basketball coach Lamont Paris said. “He got a good shot off — a shot that obviously he can make — and it went in.”
South Carolina earned a fourth point in the competition by placing higher than the Tigers in the NCAA Southeast Regional for women’s cross country.
The only matchup between the Gamecocks and the Tigers that did not result in a win or loss for either side was a women’s soccer match on Sept. 1, which finished with a 2-2 draw after junior forward Catherine Barry scored an equalizer in the 80th minute.
Even in games that South Carolina sports teams did not win, they remained competitive and showed indications that the result could have ended in their favor. On Sept. 2, the men’s soccer team outshot defending national champions and then-No. 1 Clemson 9-5, but fell 1-0 after a 60th minute goal. The South Carolina volleyball team entered the fifth set of its Sept. 6 matchup against Clemson tied 2-2 but fell in the decisive final frame and lost the match 3-2.
Even though Staley's last loss against the Tigers came in 2009, Staley said she recalled the experience of being on the losing side of the in-state rivalry.
“Fourteen, 15 years ago, when we got here, I do remember vividly the two that we lost, and that’s etched in my memory much more than us winning 12,” Staley said. “The fans — they’ll let you know. ... They have a long memory when it comes to these battles with Clemson.”
However, Beamer said his players invite the opportunity to compete against high-quality Clemson teams, making the Palmetto Series the premier college sports rivalry in his opinion.
“It’s a great rivalry," Beamer said. "I’ve been blessed to be a part of some of the iconic rivalries in college football during my coaching career, and this one’s right there at the top.”
Palmetto Series action will continue in the spring with nine more points up for grabs. Six of these points will come from matchups between South Carolina and Clemson’s baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s golf teams. An additional three will come from a series of South Carolina Education Lottery promotions.