CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Deebo Samuel returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score and caught two touchdown passes from Jake Bentley as South Carolina defeated North Carolina State 35-28 on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Bentley threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns, including strikes of 39 and 6 yards to Samuel as the Gamecocks won their 17th season opener in the last 18 years.
"He probably won't say it, but I don't think anyone in the country can guard him," Bentley said of Samuel.
Finley threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns on 45-of-64 passing for North Carolina State. Jaylen Samuels had 15 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown and Kelvin Harmon had 10 for 114 yards for the Wolfpack.
The game turned in the third quarter.
With the score tied at 21, Bentley rolled out to the right, avoided a pass rusher and heaved a perfectly thrown pass to Samuel, who made a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone.
"If he would have dropped that pass in the end zone I might have killed him," Bentley said. "But it was an unbelievable catch and an unbelieve play he made."
Said Samuel: "We work on scramble drills every other day in practice and when he rolled out I kept running. When I see the ball coming I knew I had to make a play."
On North Carolina State's next possession, defensive end Dante Sawyer came crashing through the line and sacked Ryan Finley, stripping him of the ball. Bryson Allen-Williams hopped on the loose ball at the Wolfpack 13. Two plays later Rico Dowdle scored on a 7-yard run for a 14-point lead.
State cut the lead to 7 on a 1-yard TD catch by Samuels and had two chances to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. However, Samuels was stopped short of the first down marker on a fourth-and-5 play and Smith knocked away Finley's pass to save the game.
Samuel got the season started in style for South Carolina, taking the opening kickoff and bouncing to the outside and racing up the field. Only one player touched him as he turned on the afterburners and outran the field.
South Carolina won despite being limited to 31 yards rushing on 21 carries and being outgained 504-246.
"There is going to be film that doesn't lie and we are going to own it," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. "We have to learn from it and get better."
KICKING WOES: N.C. State brought in graduate transfer Carson Wise to solve its kicking woes, but the former Division II player from Carson-Newman shanked his first field-goal attempt of the season from 29 yards off the left goal post. Coach Dave Doeren last week called Wise "really level-headed."
A LITTLE MOORE: South Carolina senior linebacker Skai Moore returned to action after missing last season because of neck fusion surgery to fix a herniated disc and had eight tackles. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Moore was the team's leading tackler in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
South Carolina: Bentley has been touted by some as a NFL-level quarterback and he displayed that promise on Saturday with some precise passes, none better than the 39-yard strike to Samuel. It was a huge win for a team that was a combined 16-22 over the past three seasons but finished strong last year to make a bowl game. "This sets the tone for the season," Bentley said.
NC State: Entered the season with high hopes after returning 18 starters from last year, including 11 seniors -- the highest number in at least a quarter-century. So this was a huge setback for a program looking to take the next step with a statement win. Two of the biggest concerns have to be the lack of a running game.
South Carolina: Will travel next Saturday to face Missouri, which defeated Missouri State 72-43 in the season opener.