In a tale of two halves, the South Carolina Gamecocks rallied but came up short against the No. 22 Texas A&M Aggies, falling 26-23 on Saturday in Columbia to extend their winless streak to five against their annual Western Division foe.
After the teams traded punts to start the contest, the Gamecocks looked to be in business behind the strength of two long Ty’Son Williams runs and a fortunate targeting call after an incompletion to Deebo Samuel. But quarterback Jake Bentley, clearly not 100 percent after his knee injury, threw a wounded duck of a fade to Josh Vann in the end zone that was easily picked off by A&M. The Aggies then drew first blood, drilling a 52-yard field goal to go up 3-0 near the close of the first quarter.
When South Carolina went three-and-out and forced Texas A&M to do the same, Bryan Edwards finally got loose on a punt return. He went 32 yards on what would’ve been a huge runback before A&M’s all-everything punter forced him to fumble — and the Aggies recovered. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, A&M’s resulting drive stalled, and the Aggies missed a field goal to keep the score at 3-0.
The Gamecocks’ next possession unfortunately went nowhere, hurt largely by drops on a couple of well-thrown passes from Bentley. A&M made South Carolina pay for that empty drive, rumbling down the field with tight end Jace Sternberger dragging South Carolina safety Stephen Montac for about 25 yards on one particularly galling play. The Aggies rewarded Sternberger’s efforts, as he linked up with Kellen Mond on a 4-yard strike to stake A&M to a 10-0 lead.
The Gamecocks’ rough play at the receiver spots continued with more drops and another three-and-out. The defense, though, kept South Carolina in it with a goal-line stand to end the half, forcing A&M to settle for another field goal. The Aggies took a 13-0 lead into the locker room after a first half that was inspiring from a defensive standpoint for the Gamecocks, but definitely worrying from an offensive perspective.
Texas A&M got the ball back to start the third quarter, and added yet another field goal to go up 16-0. With the game still somewhat in reach but feeling like it was in danger of spiraling out of control for South Carolina, the offense finally woke up. Shi Smith showed out in a major way, leading the Gamecocks down the field and finding paydirt on a nice 22-yard catch-and-run. Edwards then atoned for his earlier drop, climbing the ladder for a 2-point conversion that narrowed the margin to 16-8 and planted the Gamecocks back in the ball game.
After a hyped up defense forced another A&M punt, South Carolina made its way back to the end zone in just 2 minutes, 43 seconds, this time thanks to a 33-yard flea-flicker to Chavis Dawkins. Another 2-point conversion from Edwards on a nice stretch at the goal line tied the game, and the stadium was rocking.
A&M responded on its next possession, methodically plodding down the field and eventually settling for yet another field goal when Rashad Fenton nearly had a pick on the goal-line. The Aggies went up 19-16, and the Gamecocks still had several minutes to work with to retake the lead.
But drops reared their ugly head again, this one a drive-killer by Smith, and South Carolina came up empty. A&M sat on the ball for the remainder of the quarter, adding insult to injury with a late Trayveon Williams touchdown to push the margin to 26-16.
The Gamecocks didn’t go down quietly, however. With the aid of some Texas A&M penalties, South Carolina flew down the field, and Bentley found Samuel in the end zone to make the score 26-23 with about a minute left. The Gamecocks recovered their ensuing onside kick, but the ball didn’t travel the requisite 10 yards, leaving A&M as the victor.
South Carolina falls to 3-3 (2-3 SEC), while Texas A&M improves to 4-3, 3-1. The Gamecocks will get a much-needed breather with an open date next week before taking on Tennessee to close their October homestand.