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Gamecocks snap rivalry streak with thrilling 31-30 win at Clemson

Rivalry streak snapped. Home winning streak busted. Playoff hopes gone.

After trailing 30-21 late in the third quarter and staring down the barrel of an eighth consecutive loss to its hated rival, South Carolina ripped off the final 10 points of the game to steal a 31-30 win over No. 8 Clemson.

In the process, they ended Clemson’s 40-game home winning streak, which had been the longest home winning streak for any FBS team through the entirety of the 21st century.

Spencer Rattler hit Antwane Wells Jr. on a 72-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 30-28 before the third quarter was over, and a 34-yard Mitch Jeter field goal with 10:54 remaining gave the Gamecocks the lead they never relinquished.

In the meantime, defense and special teams saved the day.

Punter Kai Kroeger pinned Clemson inside its own 5-yard-line three times including twice in the fourth quarter, Marcellas Dial scored a crucial interception midway through the fourth quarter to steal a possession, and most crucially of all true freshman Nick Emmanwori scooped up a fumble on a punt return with just over two minutes remaining to kill Clemson’s last chance at a comeback.

Rattler finished the game 25-of-39 passing for 360 yards, putting the memories of two early interceptions in the distant past.

But when it started, a win looked like the furthest possibility imaginable.

And as has defined South Carolina’s experience early in road games this year, there was an early deficit. The Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 lead first on the Trotter pick-six and then a 9-yard DJ Uiagalelei rushing score, but this time there was one important difference.

Unlike how the 21-0 deficit at Florida flatlined into a 38-6 dud, Shane Beamer’s team punched its way back into the game. Rattler hit Antwane Wells Jr. in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal for South Carolina’s first touchdown against Clemson since 2018 and following a safety and a bizarre Phil Mafah fumble on the ensuing kick, Rattler rushed in for a score that made it 16-14.

From there, a game many people expected to be a defensive slugfest went off course and evolved into a shootout. The teams traded scores on either side of halftime, first with Antonio Williams catching a throw in the corner of the end zone on a South Carolina coverage bust to make it 23-14 and then with Jaheim Bell plunging in from two yards out to make it 23-21.

After the Tigers hit back with another score to take the margin out to two possessions with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, it was fair to wonder if South Carolina had run out of gas.

But this time, it was different. Rattler bowed up with his longest touchdown pass of the season to Wells to make the game close. A South Carolina defense defined by its halftime adjustments all season came up with some in the biggest moment of all, shutting the Tigers out in the fourth quarter.

And with everything — the rivalry streak, the home winning streak, almost a decade of frustration — on the line, South Carolina’s offense stepped up with one final conversion.

Facing third-and-4 late, Rattler found Wells on a bubble screen he managed to move the chains on to set off unhinged celebrations in the garnet corner of Memorial Stadium and score one of the greatest wins in program history.

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