COLUMBIA, SC – In a raucous environment in Williams-Brice Stadium, the Tar Heels fell short against their rival to the south. South Carolina earned a 27-10 victory.
The Gamecocks didn’t wait long to get on the board.
The first fifteen minutes of play doomed North Carolina. Playing from behind on the road is not a formula for success for anyone, let alone for a clear underdog. Surprisingly, however, it wasn’t Heisman hopeful Jadeveon Clowney that foiled the Tar Heels.
It was UNC’s inability to cash in with scores at the end of their offensive drives coupled with giving up big plays on defense that did Head Coach Larry Fedora’s squad in.
The first quarter was largely a nightmare scenario for the Tar Heels as they looked nervous and shaky in all facets of their game. An early touchdown strike put the Tar Heels in a 7-0 hole right from the beginning.
Quarterback Bryn Renner struggled to find his form as he was often forced to scramble wide by Clowney and company on the South Carolina defense. Coach Fedora’s up-tempo offense was only able to pick up one first down in the first period.
Meanwhile, South Carolina continued to pick apart the UNC defense both on the ground and through the air, amassing 82 rushing yards and 121 more in the passing game.
Ultimately, it was a 17-0 lead for the Gamecocks at the close of the first quarter.
Thankfully for the Tar Heels the second quarter went a little differently. In a promising development, UNC’s defense, led by seniors Kareem Martin and Tre Boston, began to come up with some answers for Coach Steve Spurrier’s offensive attack.
Slowing down the Gamecocks, the Tar Heels were able to put together a nice scoring drive of their own. But the touchdown grab by Quinshad Davis would have never come to fruition if not for a gutsy fourth down gamble by Coach Fedora when he could have settled for a field goal.
Down 17-7, Carolina continued to fight ably against a multi-faceted offense from South Carolina. Although they gave up one more score, in the form of a three point boot by Elliott Fry, UNC came up big on a few defensive series that kept them in the contest trailing by only 13 points heading into the locker room.
The start of the final half in Williams-Brice Stadium brought with it a renewed sense of urgency for the Tar Heel offense. Getting the ball first, UNC drove the ball right down the field with two crucial fourth down conversions, including a long pass delivered to Davis from Renner. An impressive burst of speed for Romar Morris picked up another first down for the Tar Heels.
Ultimately, the drive stalled out inside the five yard line, but new starting kicker Thomas Moore converted on the 20-yard field goal to reduce the deficit to 10-20 with 7:51 left in the third period.
But South Carolina wouldn’t wait long to respond. All the momentum gained from the Tar Heel scoring drive was canceled out on the very next play as South Carolina’s Mike Davis ran for a 75 yard touchdown to notch the margin back up to 17 points.
How would Carolina respond this time? By marching right down the field yet again. The South Carolina defense was starting to look gassed at this point, seemingly caving in to the freakishly fast Tar Heel no-huddle offense. But UNC failed to cash in with any points after being forced to punt.
South Carolina didn’t waste any time moving the football again as they began to gash through the UNC defensive line with a vigorous rushing attack. UNC provided little to no resistance until a big sack by Norkeithus Otis ended the third quarter with the Gamecocks up 27-10.
Running back Romar Morris began to stand out. He tallied up 63 yards off the ground by the close of the third quarter.
The Tar Heel defense stiffened to start the final quarter and forced a punt. There was still hope, but the offense needed to produce points in a hurry.
And a third and 19 is not the down and distance you want to be in to get that job done. Not surprisingly, UNC couldn’t pick up that first down. South Carolina’s ball once again.
Playing like a team ahead 17 points, USC kept the clock running. But in a bizarre twist, lightning struck within eight miles of the stadium, forcing the game to be suspended at 8:46 p.m. with a little over 8 minutes remaining in the contest.
After a lengthy one hour and forty-five minute delay, the pair of teams were at it again. The majority of the fans had already headed home, so the game was being played before a sparse crowd. But the show went on and the Tar Heels forced a three and out for the Gamecocks.
But the next series for Renner and the Tar Heel offense resulted in negative yards, and punter Tommy Hibbard was back on the field for yet another Tar Heel punt.
At least the UNC band remained positive in the waning seconds, blaring away spirited renditions of classic fight songs, but the clock continued to wind down and the game’s result became all too certain.
And although the Tar Heels picked up some more yardage to add to the final statistics sheets in the waning moments, it was fitting that yet again, the Tar Heels were kept out of the end zone when it mattered- a disturbing trend.
This round of the Border Battle went the way of the SEC and the University of South Carolina, hands down.