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South Carolina holds off N.C. State, 35-28, to open 2017 season

Three scores by Deebo Samuel and two TDs by Rico Dowdle helped South Carolina to a season-opening win.

North Carolina State v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The 2017 Belk College Kickoff ended up being a nailbiter in the end, but South Carolina held on to defeat N.C. State, 35-28, to open their season with a victory in Charlotte.

The 2017 season probably couldn’t have started any better: a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Deebo Samuel to put South Carolina up 7-0 just seconds into the contest. But the Gamecocks gave it back as poor defense and gutsy play calling by the Wolfpack led to Ryan Finley running it in from six yards out to tie it up. South Carolina, though, responded with a nice drive of their own thanks to some timely third-down conversions, ending with Rico Dowdle’s juggling 34-yard catch to make it a 14-7 contest.

N.C. State would march right back down the field and tie it up as both defenses couldn’t get it going early on, but a forced fumble on the Wolfpack’s own 40 put the Gamecocks in business. Minutes later, it was Samuel in the end zone again with his second score of the afternoon.

South Carolina’s poor play in the secondary was bailed out by a N.C. State missed field goal from 24 yards out with 4:39 left, but on their next possession, Finley was able to find Jakobi Meyers on the right side of the end zone to tie it at 21 just before the break.

Jake Bentley’s elusiveness was put on display all afternoon, but there was no better example of it than on this pass play to Samuel - Samuel’s second receiving TD of the game and third overall - to give the Gamecocks a 28-21 lead on their first offensive possession of the 3rd quarter.

Meanwhile, the Gamecocks defense came out on fire out of the locker room, forcing a punt on the Pack’s first possession and recovering a fumble deep in N.C. State territory on the next one - followed by a Rico Dowdle seven-yard TD run to up the margin to 35-21. But with 54 seconds left in the 3rd, following a muffed punt by Chris Lammons and a three-and-out, the Pack were given great field position at the South Carolina 46 after the resulting punt, getting it in the end zone on a 4th-and-short catch by Jaylen Samuels to cut it to 35-28 with 12:21 left in regulation.

Things got even more sticky with Bentley’s first thrown pick of the game that put the Wolfpack at their own 31 with 11:22 remaining in the 4th, but a offensive pass interference on a potential first down catch saw the Gamecocks get the ball back with under eight minutes left - only to go three and out and allow a sizable punt return to give the Wolfpack more great field position with 5:49 left. On a fourth and short near the South Carolina 30, Jaylen Samuels was ruled to be short of the marker with 4:34 left; the officiating crew would uphold the call after video review. After another three-and-out for South Carolina, the Wolfpack got the ball back with 3:06 left at their own 28, but with 2:35 left, Hines was stripped by Jamyest Williams near midfield and the ball was recovered by South Carolina; after that call went to video review, that call was overturned and N.C. State kept possession. A pass interference against Jamarcus King put it at the 30 with 92 seconds left and reset the downs for the Wolfpack, but a final throw on 4th and goal into the end zone by Finley was knocked away by D.J. Smith and the Gamecocks would escape with the victory.

It has been a while since the Gamecocks have hit the 35-point mark against an FBS foe; the last time they did it was 2014 in a 42-35 defeat to Auburn. That gives some hope for those that the offense would be improved this year, and despite some hiccups (and a bumpy performance for the defense), 2017 is off to a good start.

South Carolina heads to Missouri in the other Columbia next week for an ESPN2 Saturday night matchup (7pm ET).

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