A South Carolina season Gamecocks that looked so promising after a road win at Georgia spiraled further into the abyss Saturday, as the Gamecocks struggled on their way a 20-15 home loss to the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
The upset of the Dawgs will be the farthest thing from the minds of Gamecocks fans, as barring two upsets against Texas A&M and arch-rival Clemson, Will Muschamp’s team will be watching bowl season from their couches this winter.
The opening exchanges of the game provided a good indicator of what was to come, as the teams traded field goals on the game’s first three drives, resulting in a 6-3 lead. South Carolina saw their drives stalled at the App 7 and 23-yard lines, mostly because of an inability to run the football, while the Mountaineers didn’t move the ball much on their opening drive but didn’t have to because of a 41-yard kick-return by Darrynton Evans that gave them the ball at their own 45-yard line.
A South Carolina 3-and-out deep in their own territory would set up another Mountaineer field goal, as App State coordinated their second 10-play, 30-something yard drive of the day to tie the game at 6. After both teams punted on their next drive, the game would change on a sequence of plays that become very familiar to viewers of this game. With the ball on their own 11-yard line, South Carolina ran Rico Dowdle two straight times, once for no gain, and then once for a two yard loss. Then, faced with a third and long, Ryan Hilinski tried to force a pass and it was picked off by App’s Nicholas Ross and returned for a touchdown. The inability to run the ball was nonexistent for Carolina all day, as a team they finished with 21 yards on 27 carries. Dowdle on his own totaled 9 yards on 14 carries. This inability to run with any amount of success led to constantly being behind the sticks and allowed the Mountaineers defense to force Hilinski to make tough throws in obvious passing situations.
Throw he would too, 57 times to be exact, totaling 325 yards with 1 touchdown and the 1 pick-six. Bryan Edwards would catch 9 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown but would have the most important pass of the day sail just out of his reach out of the back of the endzone on 4th down with the Gamecocks down 5 in the waning moments of the game. Dowdle tried to make up for his lack of rushing success with 5 catches for 67 yards while Kyle Markway and Xavier Legette also each had 5 receptions.
The game would end up being decided early in the third quarter when Carolina couldn’t capitalize on a Zac Thomas interception, going three and out in Mountaineer territory and settling for a field goal to make it 13-9. On the ensuing kickoff, Jalen Virgil would return the kick 57 yards all the way to the Carolina 39. Unlike the Gamecock offense, Thomas and co. did capitalize on a short field, going 39 yards and finishing the drive off with a Thomas 1-yard plunge into the endzone to make it 20-9. From there the Mountaineers would hold on, stopping the 2-point conversion after the Edwards TD catch and making one last redzone stand in the final minutes.
With the win, Appalachian State has now defeated North, South, and Coastal Carolina, making all of Carolina their domain, and coupled with Georgia Southern’s loss, are now back in control of their own destiny in the Sun Belt. South Carolina will now have to win at Texas A&M next week in order to keep their bowl hopes alive heading into the game vs Clemson.