Gamecocks’ comeback falls short up on Ol’ Rocky Top

uscfoot-21South Carolina rallied from 14 points down at halftime and twice tied Tennessee, but a forced fumble with 32 seconds remaining ended a potential scoring drive for the Gamecocks in their final possession as the Volunteers defeated the Gamecocks 27-24 Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.

Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Gamecocks second drive of the third quarter resulted in a touchdown as the Gamecocks cut the Volunteers lead to seven points. Carolina went 11 plays on 80 yards in the drive culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Orth to Jonathan Walton. The touchdown was the first time that Walton, a linebacker for the Gamecocks, touched the ball in his career in an offensive possession.

Carolina immediately followed with a forced turnover and converted a 4th & Goal to tie the game at 17. With Tennessee pinned back deep in their territory, Gamecocks defensive tackle Phillip Dukes forced a fumble down that was recovered by linebacker T.J. Holloman. With 4th & Goal at the 7, the Gamecocks elected to go for the touchdown and Orth rifled a spiral right into the end zone that was corralled in by Jerell Adams for the score.

Both teams traded touchdowns in the next two possessions including a 5-yard TD pass from Perry Orth to Pharoh Cooper. Tennessee would go ahead 27-24 with 9:14 to go in the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Aaron Medley. The Vols drive was keyed by a pair of third down conversions with Dobbs completing a 24-yard pass on a 3rd & 7 to Johnathon Johnson as well as 30-yard pass to Von Pearson on 3rd & 10 down to the SC 13-yardline.

South Carolina kept fighting though and down to their final timeout forced Tennessee to punt with 1:24 to go in the game. The Gamecocks worked quickly and Orth moved the team into UT territory with a 17-yard pass to Matrick Belton and a 16-yard completion to Hayden Hurst. On 3rd & 10 on the Tennessee 43-yardline, Orth connected with Gamecock tight end Jerell Adams, who shook off a UT defender. As Adams continued down the field, Tennessee nickleback Malik Foreman punched the ball from behind out of Adams’ grip and Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin fell on the ball to recover the fumble and seal the win for the Volunteers.

Orth finished 20-for-39 in the air for 233 passing yards including a career-high three touchdown passes. Senior tailback Brandon Wilds was the Gamecocks’ leading rusher with 20 carries for 79 yards. Junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper caught a team-high four passes for 47 yards as well.

Tennessee drove 67 yards on eight plays in the opening drive with Alvin Kamara scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run. The Volunteers increased the lead to 14-0 on their second possession as Dobbs connected with Von Pearson for a 37-yard touchdown pass.

South Carolina looked to cut the deficit on its next two possessions. T.J. Gurley forced a fumble in Tennessee territory during the first quarter. After a targeting penalty on UT safety Brian Randolph brought the Gamecocks down to the UT 17-yardline, the Volunteers defense came up with a pair of tackles for loss followed by a sack to push the Gamecocks back to the UT 28. A 46-yard field goal attempt by Elliott Fry would be pushed wide right then keeping the Gamecocks off the scoreboard. After forcing a punt, South Carolina advanced the ball into Tennessee territory again early into the second quarter. Orth connected on 3rd down with D.J. Neal for a 22-yard pass. After a 14-yard pass from Orth to Googer, the Volunteers defense stymied the Gamecock offense as Wilds would lose 2 yards on a 3rd & 2 and 1 more on 4th & 4 on the UT 29 to end the Gamecock threat.

Both teams traded field goals in the second quarter. Aaron Medley connected on a 46-yarder for the Volunteers. The Gamecocks would then put together a scoring drive right before halftime. Orth came up with a key third down conversion as he found Pharoh Cooper for a 17-yard completion. Brandon Wilds added a 12-yard run and Orth rushed 15 yards to move the Gamecocks into scoring position. Fry converted the 43-yard field goal attempt cutting the deficit to 14 points.

Photo courtesy of UT Athletics

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