CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No. 12 South Carolina entered the season with sky-high expectations, and those lofty dreams almost crashed Saturday night before the season barely got under way.
Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia came off the bench to account for three touchdowns, and the Gamecocks survived a shaky first half to defeat East Carolina 56-31 before 58,272 fans at Bank of America Stadium.
South Carolina lost four fumbles in the first half to allow the Pirates to take a 24-14 lead, but the Gamecocks quickly responded with three touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half to regain control.
Garcia didn’t start Saturday because coach Steve Spurrier said sophomore Connor Shaw had performed better during preseason workouts. Garcia, who was suspended in the off-season, rejoined the team in August. He had started 28 consecutive games and led the Gamecocks to the SEC championship game last year.
“Stephen will start next week (against Georgia),” Spurrier said after the game. “Connor had some tough luck.”
Shaw presided over a lackluster first quarter that featured four drives, two fumbles and zero points. He rushed six times for 19 yards, and he completed two of eight passes for 18 yards and took one sack.
East Carolina led 17-0 before Garcia entered the game at 9:43 of the second quarter. He came in to an ovation from the Gamecock faithful and promptly led South Carolina 59 yards to a touchdown. The final 32 yards came on a Garcia run up the middle, the longest run of his career.
After the Pirates fumbled the kickoff, South Carolina converted the short field into another touchdown. Marcus Lattimore did the honors to pull South Carolina to 17-14.
Another South Carolina fumble before the half led to another East Carolina touchdown.
“We yelled at them for a minute,” Spurrier said of the atmosphere in the locker room at halftime. “Then we calmed down and realized coming from behind might not be a bad thing.”
South Carolina pounced on the Pirates in the second half. After Antonio Allen forced a fumble, Garcia found Ace Sanders on a 3-yard touchdown pass. Then, after another turnover, Garcia rushed 10 yards for the go-ahead score.
South Carolina’s defense got into the scoring when Allen stripped an East Carolina ball carrier and raced 25 yards into the end zone.
The Gamecocks also scored on special teams. Sanders returned a punt 68 yards in the fourth quarter.