COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s not his ultimate goal at South Carolina, but first-year coach Shane Beamer couldn’t hold back the tears after his Gamecocks became bowl eligible with a 21-17 win over Auburn on Saturday night.
Beamer said at practice this week, he got sad watching the first team he’s even been in charge of, afraid they might lose their last two and have just a week-and-a-half left together.
“Thank God that’s not the case,” Beamer said getting emotional again in his postgame news conference. “I’m so happy.”
The Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) fought back in this one. For the second week in a row, Auburn (6-5, 3-4) dominated early and jumped out to a big lead – this time 14-0 – but saw it evaporate as their defense suddenly lost its edge.
“We’ve got to show up in games and play four quarters,” said Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, whose team blew a 28-3 lead to Mississippi State last week.
ZaQuandre White, who finished the game with 99 yards running had just three yards on the ground when Auburn led by 14.
But the Gamecocks scored touchdowns on their next two drives with White running for 37 yards and popping uncovered out of the backfield for a 28-yard TD on a 4th-and-3 that turned the momentum of the game around.
It was nothing fancy, Beamer said.
“We talked about this being big boy SEC football,” Beamer said. “We literally lined up in the second half and ran the same two plays over and over and over and over and over again.”
Auburn appeared to have one last chance, but a review of several minutes determined a South Carolina punt barley brushed Jaylon Simpson’s leg with 2:11 to go and the Gamecocks ran the clock out.
Auburn lost its third game in a row even though Tank Bigsby ran for a season best 164 yards on 22 carries. LSU transfer T.J. Finley made his first start for his new team, going 17-for-32 passing for 188 yards after Bo Nix was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
South Carolina made a bowl last season with a 2-8 record, but it was canceled because of COVID-19.
“This is just the start,” Beamer said. “Our goal isn’t to just win six games and go to a bowl.”
Auburn led 14-7 in the second quarter and had fourth and 1 at its 35-yard line. The Tigers went for it and failed on the fourth down and the Gamecocks responded with a six-play, 35-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard pass from Jason Brown to Trai Jones.
99 — Zaquandre White led the Gamecocks’ rushing attack with 99 yards on 16 carries and added three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Carolina had 149 net rushing yards as Kevin Harris added 63 yards in the win, clinching bowl eligibility for Carolina.
Carolina closes out the 2021 regular season on Saturday, Nov. 27 as the Gamecocks host in-state rival Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on SEC Network.