Dec. 29, 2016
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — South Carolina (6-7) stormed back from an 18-point deficit to force overtime, but USF (11-2) came through in the end to claim a 46-39 victory in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl from Legion Field.
The Bulls wasted no time in taking the advantage in overtime, as quarterback Quinton Flowers scrambled before finding Elkanah Dillon in the end zone for the decisive score. The Gamecocks benefited from a face mask penalty to keep their OT possession alive, but Mike Love, on 4th-and-6, produced a sack to end the chance and the game in the Bulls' favor.
In the fourth quarter, South Carolina got a critical score with 9:41 to go. On 4th-and-2 from the USF 9, A Bull defender tipped the Jake Bentley pass, but freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards, diving right behind the tip, brought in the catch at the back of the end zone for a touchdown. That brought the Gamecocks within a score at 39-31.
The Gamecocks drove inside the Bulls' 10 with a chance to tie the game, but cornerback Tajee Fullwood forced a fumble at the two, and Khalid McGee recovered it to end that chance.
The Gamecock defense stepped up and held the Bulls to only a yard and forced their third punt in four possessions. Junior Chris Lammons returned the punt to the USF 2, setting up redshirt freshman A.J. Turner's one-yard score. Needing two to tie the game, Bentley hit sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst in the back of the end zone to convert and tie things at 39-39. The Gamecock defense held for three plays again to force overtime.
In the first quarter, USF got a pair of four-yard runs from its starting quarterback Flowers, the first on a designed draw and the second on a scramble, to take the advantage. The Green and Gold converted a two-point conversion after the first score, making it 15-0 after the traditional PAT kick after the second run.
The Gamecocks struck fast with a four-play, 81-yard drive that saw freshman quarterback Bentley run for the first 10 yards before throwing the final 71 yards. A completion to sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel came before two receptions by Hurst, the final a 25-yard scoring catch.
A big fourth-down conversion helped USF send the lead back to 15. Flowers hit D'Ernest Johnson, who rumbled 22 yards to keep the drive going. Three plays later, Flowers completed a one-yard run for his third touchdown of the game.
On the Gamecocks' final drive of the first half, Bentley went 5-for-6, including capping it with a three-yard score to Samuel. But USF answered, as Flowers hit Johnson for a 37-yard TD pass to make it 29-14 at the end of the first half.
South Carolina scored on the first drive of the second half, with Samuel capping the drive with a four-yard run. Freshman running back Rico Dowdle had the biggest gain on the drive, running for 26 yards to get the ball into Bull territory.
The Gamecock defense held the Bulls to a field goal after USF drove inside the Gamecock 5. But on the ensuing South Carolina possession, Fullwood intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown, putting the Bulls' lead to 39-21.
With 22 seconds left in the third, Gamecock senior Elliott Fry hit a 43-yard field goal to make it 39-24. That started the comeback bid by South Carolina.
Flowers' speed on the ground, where he gained 105 yards on 21 attempts, kept the Gamecock defense on notice, drawing more defenders up to take care of his threat. That allowed Dillon to get open and catch the decisive score.
South Carolina gave up four turnovers, two on consecutive possessions in the third quarter, just as the Gamecocks looked to draw even with the the co-American Athletic Conference East Division champs. They also turned the ball over twice on fumbles inside the 10.
Bentley went 32-43 for 390 yards in the air and three scores, all tops for the freshman.
Samuel caught 14 passes for 190 yards, both career bests.
Turner and Dowdle both contributed on the ground, with Dowdle going for 50 yards on 12 carries to Turner's 49 on 10.
Hurst and Edwards both had six catches each, with Hurst going for 86 yards to Edwards' 71.
The Gamecocks played its first bowl game under head coach Will Muschamp in his first season at South Carolina.
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