Two blocked punts ruin Georgia State’s upset dreams at South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With 11:43 left in the third quarter, Williams-Brice Stadium looked like a fine place for Georgia State to earn the program’s second signature win over a Southeastern Conference opponent. The Panthers had just taken a 14-12 lead on Darren Grainger’s 4-yard run and there was serious consternation among the suddenly-silent 78,000 garnet-wearing fans.

But six minutes later the roosters were crowing again after South Carolina answered with a touchdown and made it a two-touchdown game by blocking a punt for a TD. Instead of the joy following the 2019 win at Tennessee, it was the disappointment of a close call a la Auburn in 2021.

In the end the Gamecocks blocked another punt for a touchdown and survived with a 35-14 win over an emotionally charged Georgia State team that featured 20 native South Carolinians, along with coach Shawn Elliott, who was in no mood to consider moral victories.

“We as a football team and a coaching staff came in here prepared to win and to fight and to play extremely hard and come out on the opposite end of what we did,” Elliott said. “When you look at us offensively and defensively, it’s hard for me to say but I thought we played toe-to-toe with them.”

But special teams were another matter. The failure there led to two blocked punts that went for touchdowns and a successful fake field goal that set up another score.

“We started with a fake field goal and gave them an opportunity for a first down and it was critical,” Elliott said. “Then we had not one, but two blocked punts for touchdowns, which is unacceptable. A blocked punt in general is just unacceptable.”

Credit: Artie Walker Jr.

Credit: Artie Walker Jr.

There were numerous positives.

The Panthers rushed for 200 yards, with former Gamecock Jamyest Williams carrying 13 times for 76 yards. Jamari Thrash caught four passes for 70 yards, including a 44-yarder. Cornerback Quavian White had two interceptions, giving him nine for his career, and one sack.

And the Georgia State pass rush chased South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler all night, sacking him four times and getting credit for six hurries. Rattler, an Oklahoma transfer who was being touted as a Heisman hopeful, completed 23 of 37 for 207 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

But GSU quarterback Grainger completed only 7 of 29 throws for 111 yards, one interception and one touchdown. He missed 11 straight at one point in the second half. It was a factor in the Panthers going three-and-out on seven possessions.

“I don’t think the passing was very good,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to work on that. We’ve got to become a better passing team.”

Georgia State took the opening kickoff and stunned South Carolina when Williams broke loose for a 41-yard run. The Panthers reached the 8-yard line and gambled on a fourth-and-1, only to have Tucker Gregg come up a couple of chain links short of the first down.

“We came to win and I don’t think you’re going to win by kicking field goals,” Elliott said. “I rolled the dice and I’d do it again 1,000 times ... every single time.”

South Carolina got its first points after a fake field goal. The ball was hiked to up-man Hunter Rogers, who carried to the 2 and got enough for the first down. MarShawn Lloyd ran for a touchdown on the next play, but the extra point failed when the snap sailed over the holder’s head.

The Gamecocks added a 53-yard field goal from Mitch Jeter, the first of his career and tied for seventh-longest in school history for a 9-0 lead.

The Georgia State offense finally had some success after going three-and-out on four consecutive possessions. Grainger found Thrash for a 28-yard reception and used a South Carolina facemask penalty on the next play to reach the 28. Four plays later Grainger faked a handoff to Williams and threw over the middle to Robert Lewis for a 17-yard touchdown, cutting Carolina’s lead to 9-7.

South Carolina was able to scramble for another field goal at the horn, a drive helped by a late hit that moved the Gamecocks into range for a 51-yarder by Jeter, who became the first player in school history to kick two 50-yarders in the same game.

Georgia State plays its first home game Saturday when North Carolina becomes the first Power Five program to play at Center Parc Stadium.

“We’ve got to go back and regroup in that area and regroup in our offense and our defense. But I want you to know, we have a talented football team,” Elliott said. “We have a hard-working football team. We have a gutsy football team. And I think we’re going to grow. I think learning from the struggles we had tonight in those areas will make us better and prepare us for next week.”