CHARLOTTE — The forgotten man in South Carolina’s running back corps delivered the most memorable offensive play of Thursday night’s opener for the Gamecocks.
Shon Carson, listed as the third tailback on USC’s depth chart, exploded for a 48-yard touchdown run with 12:45 remaining which proved the winning score in the Gamecocks’ 17-13 victory over North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium.
Carson led USC with 75 rushing yards despite carrying the ball just four times. Brandon Wilds started and rushed 14 times for 51 yards, while David Williams carried 10 times for 42 yards.
“My guys were a little bit banged up,” Carson said, “so I had to prove I could step up.”
He did just that in a game where USC struggled to move the ball through the air. “Their defense got the best of our offense, pretty much, except for the running game there at the end,” said USC head coach Steve Spurrier.
South Carolina faced third-and-3 on the play after a nine-yard pickup from Williams. Carson, a senior, said he followed his blocker, taking it slow until the edge was sealed and he could turn the corner. Then he was gone.
“It felt good to see all that green grass,” he said.
New punter Sean Kelly made his presence felt in more ways than one Thursday night. The walk-on transfer from Florida Atlantic averaged 46.2 yards on five kicks, twice pinning the Tar Heels inside the 10. He made a tackle to halt a return of a missed Elliott Fry field goal at the end of the first half. And he kept a first-quarter drive going with a 17-yard ramble on a fake.
“One player that had a super game was our walk-on punter,” Spurrier said. “If you want me to brag on a punter, I’m bragging on ours.”
Kelly, who played quarterback in high school, said UNC showed an alignment he had seen on film, and it was his decision to tuck the ball and run on fourth-and-9 from his own 21. “You can take off if you’ve got it,” he said. “It’s up to you.”
Kelly, who played two seasons at FAU, said it was the first fake he had ever run. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking,” he said. “They said when I got (back to) the sideline, I said, ‘Wait, did we actually run a fake?’”
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel left the game with a strained hamstring suffered while trying to chase down a Connor Mitch deep ball. And USC’s starting quarterback missed a stretch of the second half while he was having a hip pointer iced, Spurrier said.
“I’ll just have to go in and get a lot of treatment this week,” Mitch said.
Mitch and receiver Pharoh Cooper were among the many players who were treated for cramps. The temperature at kickoff Thursday was 91 degrees. “It was a bit hotter tonight than we thought it was going to be,” Spurrier said. “It was hot. We had to IV about 12 or 13 players.”