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South Carolina fends off Florida to close SEC play with 28-20 victory

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It was ugly, but the Gamecocks got the job done.

THEY DID IT
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks got some big offensive plays early and relied on solid defense throughout, including a game-clinching interception, to close their SEC slate with a 28-20 victory against the Florida Gators on Saturday in Williams-Brice.

South Carolina got off to the hot start it needed, overwhelming the Gators to force a game-opening three-and-out. The Gamecocks then put together an impressive scoring drive, powered by a few A.J. Turner runs and a couple of nice catches for big gains by Shi Smith and Hayden Hurst. Quarterback Jake Bentley scooted into the end zone from four yards out for his first rushing touchdown of the day.

After forcing another Florida punt, the Gamecocks and Gators took part in one of the strangest sequences you’ll see all season. Pinned deep in his own territory, Bentley threw an interception when his intended receiver appeared to give up too early on his route. On the return, Florida’s C.J. Henderson fumbled a few yards shy of the goal line, where Turner scooped the ball up and ran 25 yards for the Gamecock first down. Just like they drew it up.

The fun didn’t stop there, however. South Carolina ultimately punted on that drive, but the Gators’ return man couldn’t handle it and lost the ball to the Gamecocks. Not to be outdone, however, Bentley promptly threw his second interception of the day while trying to find Hurst in the end zone.

But once again, no harm, no foul — Florida was forced to punt, and this time, the Gamecocks found some more points. Leaning again on Turner and getting OrTre Smith involved, South Carolina marched methodically down the field. Mon Denson capped the drive with a 24-yard burst for his first touchdown of the game.

The Gators finally got on the board with a 29-yard field goal on their next possession, and added another 37-yarder to bring the score to 14-6. South Carolina answered, going 75 yards in 4 minutes, 7 seconds with the help of Turner, Hurst, and Denson. On 4th and 1 deep in Gator territory, the offense stayed on the field, and Denson blew through the Florida defense for his second score.

The first half was almost over, but the Gators weren’t done, either. Florida went on a 75-yard drive of its own, this time with Feleipe Franks under center after starter Malik Zaire went down with an injury. Franks guided the Gators to pay dirt, and Lamical Perine finished the job with an 18-yard touchdown run to make the halftime score a distinctly uncomfortable 21-13.

The second half got off to a slow and sloppy start for both teams. South Carolina opened the third quarter by turning it over on downs, Florida punted, Bentley tossed his third interception of the game, and the Gators punted yet again. South Carolina got some breathing room with another Bentley rushing touchdown, but failed to pad the lead further when Parker White missed a 47-yard field goal.

This was where it got too close for comfort. On 3rd and 4, Franks threw a desperation 63-yard heave caught by Moral Stephens on the Gamecocks’ 1-yard line. The Gators plunged in for the touchdown, and with the score 28-20 and roughly four minutes left in the game, South Carolina needed to salt it away. The Gamecocks were quickly forced to punt, however, and had to turn to their defense. Fortunately, Jamyest Williams was there for the game-sealing interception.

A.J. Turner finished with 22 carries for 136 yards, with Mon Denson adding 61 yards and two touchdowns on 13 touches. Bentley was 19-of-29 passing for 249 yards, two rushing touchdowns, and three interceptions. He distributed the ball well to several receivers: OrTre Smith and Hayden Hurst each had five receptions (for 60 and 59 yards, respectively); Bryan Edwards made three catches for 48 yards; and Turner had three for 36. In total, the Gamecocks generated 469 yards of offense while holding Florida to 301 (with many of those yards coming on big plays late in the game).

The Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3 SEC), who earned Will Muschamp his first victory against his former team, now have a chance to pick up eight wins for the first time since 2013. In-state Wofford is up next.