COLUMBIA, S.C.-- A stout defensive performance from South Carolina (6-5) would more than make up for its five turnovers, as it held South Alabama (6-5) to just 289 yards of offense and forced five turnovers of its own in a 37-12 win Saturday afternoon. It was senior day at Williams-Brice Stadium, and the class shined in its final game in front of the home fans.
After the teams traded field goals on the opening drives of the game, the Gamecocks went ahead 10-3 on a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior Dylan Thompson to his classmate, Nick Jones, who would personally finish the first quarter with three catches for 53 yards. Thompson moved into fifth all-time in passing yards for a season on the touchdown to Jones.
The Gamecocks were driving deep into South Alabama territory hoping to extend its lead early in the quarter, but Mike Davis was stripped at the end of an eight-yard rush to give up possession. It would not last long, as its second play from scrimmage would be an interception taken to the house by Brison Williams. The swing pass out to the left-side flat was sniffed out by the senior safety, who ran up from deep coverage, snagged the pass in stride and went 21 yards for the touchdown, his second pick-six of the year for a 17-6 advantage.
Williams would strike again on the Jags' next possession, making a leaping catch at the Carolina 11-yard line to stop a potential scoring drive and record his fourth interception of the season. The Gamecocks would drive near midfield before a mistimed pass from Thompson would be returned by South Alabama to just outside the red zone.
Two plays after giving it up, possession would pinball back to the Gamecocks after Skai Moore stepped in front of a pass at the six-yard line. The celebrations were just starting to die down before the quarter's sixth and final turnover would happen, with Davis fumbling a 13-yard pass from Thompson. That set the Jaguars up for a field goal to close out the half with the Gamecocks up 17-9.
South Alabama had almost 21 minutes of possession in the first half. It was able to soak up the clock thanks to a 5-of-8 success rate on third-down conversions.
While the turnovers would never go away for either side in the second half, the Carolina defense tightened up and allowed just 82 yards in the final 30 minutes and 2.5 yards per play. It also forced four punts and a trio of three-and-outs.
A pair of Elliot Fry field goals was all the scoring that would come in the third quarter for either team, as he hit a career-long 47-yard attempt and a 24 yarder. His second make came after Mason Harris forced a fumble on a sack in Jaguar territory, leading to a 23-9 lead going to the fourth.
The Gamecocks pulled a special trick out of its sleeve to put the game out of reach early on in the fourth. Starting on its own four-yard line, Carolina embarked on a season-long 96-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard pass from Pharoh Cooper to Thompson. Cooper returned the favor to his quarterback just two plays after he took a post route 73 yards to the South Alabama 13 yard line.
In the very next drive, Moore made his second interception of the game and returned it 42 yards to get the home side back in the red zone. One play later, David Williams scampered the final 14 yards for the score and a 37-9 advantage. Of Carolina's four interceptions, three came as the Jaguars were driving into the home half of the field.
Thompson finished his final home game on a high note, exiting to a raucous applause from the home crowd in the team's final drive. Along with his first career touchdown catch, the Boiling Springs native passed for 237 yards.
The offense was able to even out the early advantage in time of possession that South Alabama built by running the ball 37 times for 210 yards with seven different players. Brandon Wilds led the team with 77 yards rushing and Williams went 12 times for 65 yards. In another game flashing his versatility, Cooper finished with 95 yards receiving, 42 yards running and the touchdown pass.
The win makes South Carolina bowl eligible for the 10th-consecutive season and gives the senior class its 39th win, second-most ever for a graduating class in program history.