COLUMBIA, Mo. – South Carolina’s miracle man has brought the impossible to life before.
Quarterback Connor Shaw’s toughness is unquestioned. The senior has returned from severe injuries with lightning speed, never counted out, never willing to sit idly on the sideline. That toughness, more than anything, has become his legacy.
At Missouri, Shaw outdid himself.
Shaw sparked a miraculous, historic comeback for the No. 20 Gamecocks, leading them to a 27-24 win in double overtime before a sellout crowd of 67,124 at Memorial Stadium. Elliot Fry kicked a 40-yard field goal in the second overtime. The victory was sealed when No. 5 Missouri kicker Andrew Bagget boinked a 24-yard field goal high off the left upright in the second overtime, unleashing USC players as they stormed Faurot Field.
It was the opposite scene as last week, when Tennessee upset the Gamecocks with a game-winning field goal on the final play, then stormed the field.
“It was a game, I thought we were dead. At least three-quarters of the game, anyway,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “But we made some points there in the fourth quarter, Connor Shaw brought us back, guys made some catches, defense stopped them. Somehow, our guy, Elliot Fry made a field goal and their guy missed.
“It just worked out tonight. That’s all you can say. It was meant to be.”
Focus on those five words. They’re easy to miss.
On Saturday night, Connor Shaw brought USC back.
Shaw gave a superhuman effort, completing 20-of-29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t practice during game week, nursing a sprained knee so gruesome trainers initially expected him to miss at least one week. Backup Dylan Thompson got the start, and Shaw was only available in case of emergency.
In the third quarter, USC had one.
The Gamecocks trailed 17-0 entering the final 15 minutes. They had a miserable first half, highlighted with two fumbles from star halfback Mike Davis and capped on a 96-yard touchdown pass from Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk to receiver L’Damian Washington.
By the third quarter, Spurrier said he thought his team simply needed to do something different. He made the right adjustment.
Shaw was inserted midway through the third quarter, and the offense instantly got new life. He completed 14-of-18 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone, directing the comeback.
“First of all, Connor wasn’t even supposed to be out there playing. I wasn’t supposed to play either,” said defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who battled a sprained knee Saturday to finish with a team-high six tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for loss. “So for him to come out and do what he did, that’s amazing. I love that man to death. I wouldn’t take no NFL, hall of famer, no other quarterback over him. I love that man to death, and I’m proud of what he did.
“We knew in the back of our mind, we – I know this is something you shouldn’t say – but we some dogs. A wounded dog always fights harder when he’s hurt. We knew we had to come out and fight hard, so that’s what we did.”
Shaw’s 2-yard touchdown to Nick Jones with 42 seconds left in regulation forced only the third overtime in USC history. It was the Gamecocks’ first overtime win in school history, and Spurrier’s first overtime win as a head coach. Spurrier was previously 0-3 in overtime games.
Shaw said he never panicked throughout the comeback. USC had moved the football throughout the night, finishing with 498 yards against one of the SEC’s top defenses. The Gamecocks had 225 yards in the first half, but three turnovers kept points off the scoreboard.
“Just stay calm,” Shaw said, describing his mindset as he entered the game. “We’re not going to win the game in a series. We’ve just got to take it play by play.”
Perhaps the game’s biggest play came in the first overtime. With USC facing fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line, Shaw found junior receiver Bruce Ellington in the right corner of the end zone for a game-saving touchdown.
“It was called for me to get open,” Ellington said, “and Connor made a great throw.”
Ellington finished with 10 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns, his first putting USC on the board early in the fourth quarter. He was one of many stars, including the tailback that began the game as USC’s goat.
Davis recovered from his two first-half fumbles, finishing with 51 rushing yards on 19 carries. More important, he had a career-high 10 catches for 99 yards. His 15-yard reception off a third-down screen pass put USC on Missouri’s 1-yard line, setting up its touchdown to force overtime.
“We yelled at him a little bit, but the kid’s the leading rusher in the conference,” Spurrier said. “We’re not going to yell at him too much. We got him back in there.”
The victory pulled USC within one game of Missouri in the SEC East standings. The Gamecocks own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri. The Tigers still have games at Ole Miss and home against Texas A&M this season.
“It’s great to be down 17 in the fourth quarter, and to come together as a group – as a family – and just get a win,” Ellington said. “It’s the SEC, and we had to win this game. We’re just coming together and fighting for each other.”