Gamecocks build early lead, hang on to defeat Tar Heels

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Steve Spurrier won again at North Carolina, but this time he wasn't in the mood to snap any photos of the scoreboard.

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South Carolina's Emanuel Cook (21) tackles North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks during the Gamecocks' 21-15 victory.  Associated Press
Associated Press
South Carolina's Emanuel Cook (21) tackles North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks during the Gamecocks' 21-15 victory.

After Chris Smelley threw a career-high three touchdowns in the first half, the No. 7 Gamecocks nearly blew an 18-point halftime lead before escaping with a 21-15 victory over the Tar Heels on Saturday.

The redshirt freshman improved to 4-0 as a starter by helping the Gamecocks (6-1) successfully defend their first top 10 ranking since 2001.

But Spurrier clearly wasn't happy with his team's second-half performance, taking responsibility for what he said was a "putrid offense" that gained 62 yards after the break, rushed more than twice as often as it passed and saw an easy victory come down to the final play.

"We were playing well, up 21-3, and we tried to run and call that conservative crap, and then we couldn't throw it later," Spurrier said.

The Tar Heels (2-5) made things interesting late. T.J. Yates threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Greg Little on the first play of the fourth quarter, then ran 3 yards for another score to make it a six-point game with 3:03 remaining.

The Gamecocks gave North Carolina one last chance, after Ryan Succop's 48-yard field goal bounced harmlessly off the right upright with 46 seconds left.

Yates threw three quick completions to move the Tar Heels to the South Carolina 31, but misfired on his last two throws toward the end zone, with his final pass deflected away by a pair of the Gamecocks' offensive players - wideout Kenny McKinley swatted it at about the 1 and tight end Jared Cook smacked it to the ground.

Yates finished 22-of-42 for 285 yards against the nation's best pass defense, and Hakeem Nicks had eight receptions for 114 yards for the Tar Heels, who in Butch Davis' first season have lost four games by seven or fewer points.

"Every single one of these games is just so close, and it hurts more and more. You get closer and closer against better teams, but there's little things that we've got to do to get us over the hump," Yates said.

North Carolina had 398 total yards to South Carolina's 282, had nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession and stopped the Gamecocks on 12 of 13 third-down chances. But the Tar Heels couldn't overcome three interceptions - one thrown on a trick play in the fourth by quarterback-turned-receiver Joe Dailey in the red zone - plus a missed field goal, a botched extra point and a failed two-point conversion.

Smelley completed 17-of-26 passes for 172 yards with scoring passes to three different receivers, covering 3 yards to Dion Lecorn, 30 yards to McKinley and 12 yards to Jared Cook.

Cory Boyd rushed 20 times for 95 yards for South Carolina, helping Spurrier remain unbeaten in four games against the Tar Heels. His previous three wins came when he was at Duke from 1987-89, and his most recent visit to Kenan Stadium - a 41-0 rout - was memorialized with a team photo by the scoreboard, a snapshot that still hangs in his office.

"It felt like I was coaching for the Dukies and the South Carolina people," Spurrier quipped.

STILL UNBEATEN: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is 4-0 against North Carolina.

CLOSE CALLS: Four of the Tar Heels' losses this season are by seven or fewer points.


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