SPARTANBURG — There would be no repeat for North Carolina this year.
South Carolina scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away to a 23-19 victory in the 76th Annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in front of 7,000 fans on Saturday at Gibbs Stadium.
With the win, the Sandlappers avenged last year’s 26-19 defeat. They lead the overall series 42-30-4.
Three Aiken-area players participated in the game, including South Aiken offensive lineman Justin Day as well as Strom Thurmond running back/kick returner Darius Hammond and his teammate, linebacker Aaron Cook. Hammond ran the ball five times for a team-best 32 yards and recovered a critical onside kick attempt by the Tar Heels late in the game that allowed the Sandlappers to run out the clock for the win.
South Carolina trailed 13-9 going into the fourth quarter before taking the lead for good on a 5-yard touchdown run by Mykal Moody (Conway) for a 16-13 advantage with 14:03 left in regulation.
North Carolina drove to the Sandlappers’ 31 on the ensuing possession, but an attempt to tie came up short as Matthew Wogan (Porter Ridge) missed a 48-yard field goal try with 8:54 to go.
South Carolina wasted little time extending the lead, marching 80 yards on 11 plays, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Michael Julian (Hilton Head) to Keinan Lewis (Belton-Honea Path) for a 23-13 advantage with 3:14 left.
Julian finished 9-for-23 for 147 yards with the touchdown to lead the Sandlappers. Malcolm Green (Conway) was named the offensive most valuable player for South Carolina. He finished with three catches for 98 yards, including a 45-yard grab that set up the team’s first touchdown.
South Carolina coach Ray Stackley (Stratford) said his team would not be denied.
“We came in here as a huge underdog,” he said.
“(North Carolina) came in here with 21, 22 or 23 signees. We challenged our kids to play South Carolina football, which is to fly around and be physical and be quick. I think you saw that we’re pretty quick out there.”
Much hype surrounded North Carolina’s defense, which featured several Division I commitments. But it was South Carolina’s defense that stole the show. The Sandlappers forced six fumbles, recovering two, and were beneficiaries of three interceptions.
Ben Boulware (T.L. Hanna) was named South Carolina’s defensive most valuable player, leading the team with nine tackles, with 2.5 for loss and an interception. Devon Durant (Greenwood) also recorded nine tackles with a forced fumble and 47-yard fumble return.
As a whole, South Carolina recorded eight tackles for loss as opposed to North Carolina’s five.
“I thought our defense played extremely well the whole game,” Stackley said. “Our offense made some good adjustments at halftime and came back and scored some points.”
The day didn’t start off well for the Sandlappers, though. Tramel Terry (Goose Creek), the state’s Mr. Football, fumbled the opening kickoff and also injured his left knee. He did not return.
The Tarheels capitalized on the turnover to take a 6-0 lead after Noah Suber (T.C. Roberson) recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
South Carolina answered with 5:53 left in the first quarter as Romelo Doctor (Ashley Ridge) tied the game on a 2-yard touchdown run. The Sandlappers took a 9-6 lead into the half on a 21-yard field goal by Ben Hinson (Irmo).
North Carolina regained a 13-9 lead on a 45-yard touchdown run by Pharoh Cooper (Havelock) with 6:42 left in the third quarter. Cooper was named the Tarheels’ offensive MVP, finishing with 11 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 39 yards. He led all players with 253 all-purpose yards.
“I feel like I had a great game,” the South Carolina commitment said. “All these players out here are Division I players, so I feel like I did great. I know what it’s going to be like going into college next year.”
Suber pulled North Carolina to within 23-19 with 36 seconds left in regulation. But Jaylen Miller (Gaffney) blocked the extra point attempt.
Suber finished 5-of-10 for 62 yards and added 10 carries for 40 yards with two touchdowns.
Miller recorded a tackle, along with the blocked extra point, and served as lead blocker on four straight plays that led to the Sandlappers’ first touchdown.
“I can’t complain,” Miller said. “I just went hard and played.”
The Tarheels attempted and onside kick, but Hammond recovered the attempt and South Carolina ran out the clock.
North Carolina coach Nelson Smith (Garner Magnet) said turnovers were the difference in the game.
“They played great defense,” he said. “You’ve got to give them credit and their coaching staff. They did a great job. Anytime you lose a hard-fought game like this, it’s whoever makes the most turnovers. We had our fair share, but the kids battled back and played hard.”
Quinton Patterson (Crest) was named North Carolina’s defensive MVP, recording six tackles with two for loss and a pass breakup.
A check in the amount of $1,357,620.12 was presented to the Shriner’s Hospital at halftime.