Columbia, S.C. - Junior Detrez Newsome scored twice while breaking his own school-record with 365 all-purpose yards and freshman counterpart Connell Young posted a pair of rushing touchdowns as the upset-minded Western Carolina Catamounts battled the South Carolina Gamecocks before falling, 44-31, on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Newsome rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown while amassing a school – and Southern Conference record – 240 kickoff return yards that included a 93-yard return for a TD. The Raeford, N.C., native weaved through the South Carolina kickoff coverage team to pull the Catamounts to within 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, 41-31.
South Carolina (6-5) got three touchdowns from sophomore Deebo Samuel including a 100-yard kickoff return for a score while freshman Rico Dowdle rushed for 226 yards and two TDs to pick-up the victory. Elliott Fry added three, second half field goals including a 32-yarder with just under seven minutes to play that ultimately sealed the game for the Gamecocks, providing the final tally.
“I’m so proud of our football team; this team has been through a lot this year,” said fifth-year head coach Mark Speir during postgame comments. “The season didn’t go the way we wanted it to go and today just shows the character of this football team.”
“We knew we were going to get their best shot and we weren’t going to get their back-ups,” said Speir of South Carolina which earned its sixth victory of the season under first-year head coach Will Muschamp to become bowl eligible. “Our players fought their guts out. We left some opportunities out there… but we came here to win this ball game and our players came here to win. And though we didn’t get it done, I couldn’t be more proud of these seniors. They taught a football team how to finish. Our guys battled 60 minutes and that’s due to a bunch of seniors and we’re going to miss those guys; I’m just real proud of our football team.”
Both teams managed to find success on the ground on Saturday with Western Carolina rushing for 236 yards as a team while the Gamecocks chewed up 442 on the ground. In addition to Newsome’s 115 yards, redshirt freshman quarterback Tyrie Adams rushed for a career-best 93 yards while Young rushed for 28 yards and a career-best two touchdowns.
Adams struggled through the poorest passing performance of his young career, completing just 7-of-18 passes for 131 yards. His seven completions were spread to just four receivers – two wideouts, a running back and a tight end. Redshirt senior – and South Carolina native – Spearman Robinson finished with a game-high tying four catches for a game-best 105 receiving yards, just missing on a touchdown as he was dragged down just shy of the goal line on a 57-yard pitch-and-catch. Newsome, Terryon Robinson, and Aubrey Payne each had one catch apiece.
Though it never led after falling behind 14-0 in the opening five minutes of Saturday’s game, Western Carolina (2-9) fought through the final whistle. Newsome put the squad on the board as he capped a seven-play, 82-yard drive with a 39-yard touchdown run at the midpoint of the first quarter. However, on the ensuing kickoff, USC’s Samuel went 100-yards for a TD and a 21-7 edge.
Young’s first of two rushing touchdowns ended the fireworks in the first quarter. The Greensboro, N.C., product pranced 16 yards in for the score to trim South Carolina’s lead to seven, 21-14 through one.
The Catamounts would claw to within four points as Logan Howard split the uprights from 32 yards out as WCU orchestrated a 13-play drive. But the home squad would not be outdone as the Gamecocks closed the half with a pair of double-digit play drives including a 98-yard march to end the opening 30 minutes, both capped by Samuel’s end-around touchdown rushes. South Carolina carried a 35-17 edge into the halftime locker room.
WCU got a second rushing TD by Young and Newsome’s 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to keep the Gamecocks within sight, while Fry’s three field goals – the last at the 6:23 mark of the fourth quarter – ultimately allowed South Carolina to keep the Catamounts at arm’s length.
In addition to Dowdle’s 226 yards, tailback A.J. Turner rushed for 97 yards while Samuel finished with five carries for 27 yards and two TDs on the ground to accompany his score on special teams. Samuel also caught four passes for 56 yards, just shy of Bryan Edwards who caught four for 61. Freshman QB Jake Bentley rushed for 34 yards while completing 14-of-23 for 154 yards.
Defensively for the Catamounts, redshirt junior Daniel Riddle and sophomore DB Marvin Tillmam were both credited with a game-high nine tackles while Keion Crossen and Kendall White posted eight apiece including a tackle for loss by White. Seniors Daniel Nash and Avery Worsham were credited with forcing and recovering, respectively.
Saturday’s loss concludes the 2016 season for Western Carolina, and marks the end of the playing career of 14 seniors. South Carolina moves on to face Palmetto State rival, Clemson (10-1).