CHARLOTTE — North Carolina throttled what was expected to be a high-powered South Carolina offense Saturday and Mack Brown's Tar Heels walked away with a 24-20 win at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
South Carolina struggled on offense, managing just 269 total yards. Quarterback Jake Bentley, who was under pressure all day, completed just 16 of 30 passes for 142 yards and two interceptions. The Gamecocks managed just 138 yards rushing.
South Carolina trailed 24-20 when it got the ball back with 4:22 remaining in the game, but Bentley was again harassed by North Carolina's pass rush and threw an interception on a long pass with 2:48 left.
South Carolina got the ball back with 2:19 remaining after a 38-yard punt return by Bryan Edwards set the Gamecocks up at the Tar Heel 37. After an 11-yard completion to Josh Vann, Bentley missed a wide open Shi Smith in the end zone. He then threw a second interception to end the threat.
After North Carolina intentionally turned the ball over on downs, South Carolina got one more chance with 11 seconds remaining but Bentley was sacked and fumbled.
North Carolina, led by freshman quarterback Sam Howell, ran all over the South Carolina defense, rolling up nearly 500 yards of total offense and rallying from a 20-9 defense to upset the Gamecocks. Howell, in his first career start, completed 15 of 24 passes for 245 yards and two second-half touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Tar Heels rushed for 238 yards to just 138 for South Carolina.
It was South Carolina's second straight loss in Charlotte after losing to Virginia 28-0 last year in the Belk Bowl.
The Tar Heels marched up and down the field in the first three quarters, but the South Carolina defense repeatedly turned them away in the red zone. The Gamecocks led 13-6 at the half but North Carolina responded with a 53-yard drive to start the third quarter. But the defense came up big with linebacker Ernest Jones breaking up a pass in the end zone and forcing a field goal.
That set up a key scoring drive for the offense. Shi Smith set it up with a 60-yard kickoff return and tight end Kyle Markway capped it with a 22-yard touchdown reception from Jake Bentley to put South Carolina up 20-9.
Markway, who had just three receptions all of last year, had another key play on the drive. On third-and-14 from the 40, he made a nice grab over the middle for 15 yards and a first down.
But the North Carolina offense continued to rip off big plays and have success running the ball. The Tar Heels responded with a 98-yard drive to cut the lead to three on a fantastic catch in the end zone by Dyami Brown. Howell's 2-point conversion made it 20-17 with 14:27 remaining.
After South Carolina's sputtering offense was forced to punt again, North Carolina responded with another long drive highlighted by big plays. Howell completed two long passed for a total of 54 yards and then found Beau Corrales in the corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown that put the Tar Heels up 24-20.
Tavien Feaster wasted little time showing why South Carolina went after the Clemson transfer. On his third career carry, he busted through the line, made a Tar Heel defender miss and sped away for a 34-yard touchdown to put the Gamecocks up 10-3. Feaster and Dowdle combined to rush for 86 yards on South Carolina’s first two drives.
Trailing 10-3, North Carolina put together a nice drive to move to the Carolina 22. But the Gamecock defensive line came up big. Aaron Sterling sacked Howell on second down and then batted down a pass on third down. The Tar Heels attempted a 47-yard field goal, but Kinlaw, the 6-6 defensive tackle, swatted it down for his third career blocked kick.
The Gamecock defense made another strong stand at the end of the first half, stopping the Tar Heels at the South Carolina 7-yard line. D.J. Wonnum and Zacch Pickens both came up with big plays to hold North Carolina to a field goal.
Though North Carolina had 198 yards of total offense in the first half, the Tar Heels managed just two field goals. South Carolina had 169 yards of total offense and led 13-6 at the half.