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Aug 31, 2002

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AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina’s Lou Holtz is happy to share a place in college football history with his friend and rival, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.

“But if I worried about wins and losses, or winning percentages, I sure wouldn’t have taken over six losing situations,” said Holtz, who tied Schembechler with his 234th career victory as the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks beat New Mexico State 34-24 Saturday.

“All that means is I’ve coached a long time,” said Holtz, who can tie his former Ohio State boss, the late Woody Hayes, with four more victories.

South Carolina’s largest season-opening crowd of 83,717 didn’t see the thumping it expected. But the Gamecocks got 113 yards rushing and a pretty, 44-yard touchdown pass from new quarterback Corey Jenkins to win their third straight opener.

“You can’t win pretty all the time,” said Jenkins, who also threw for 166 yards on 9-of-18 passing.”The best part about this all is we won, and we’ve got a lot of guys who are disappointed.”

Especially since things were in doubt until the final quarter.

The Gamecocks could get little going early behind Jenkins, a 26-year-old senior starting for the first time.

And when Walter Taylor ran in from a yard out with 1:35 left in the third period – set up by Eric Higgins’ 75-yard carry – the Aggies trailed just 20-17.

“I like how we silenced the crowd a couple of times,” said Higgins, who finished with 111 yards rushing.

But Jenkins and the Gamecocks soon took control.

Jenkins had a 16-yard run and an 18-yard pass to Michael Ages on the next drive. An 8-yard run by Jenkins took the ball to New Mexico State’s 2, and freshman Daccus Turman followed with a touchdown that put the Gamecocks up 26-17 less than two minutes into the final quarter.

A fumbled punt on the Aggies’ next series set up another score for South Carolina. Andrew Pinnock got his 21st career rushing touchdown to put the game away.

“We made mistakes. We know that,” South Carolina’s Ryan Brewer said. “We’ve got to work hard every week.”

New Mexico State quarterback Buck Pierce scored on a 13-yard draw play with 3:29 left. The Aggies, though, could get no closer.

Pierce was 17-of-26 passing for 207 yards.

Jenkins’ highlight was his touchdown throw to James Adkisson in third quarter. Jenkins stepped back, pump-faked hard, then hit Adkisson right on the hands as he entered the end zone.

Jenkins, who grew up less than a mile from Williams-Brice Stadium, raised his arms to the cheering crowd.

“That was something, wasn’t it?” Jenkins said, smiling.

It was one of the few things Gamecocks fans got excited about.

Two years ago they stormed the field, tore down the goal posts and ripped up the shrubs here when South Carolina ended a 21-game losing streak by beating New Mexico State 31-0.

Pierce, a redshirt that season, vowed such celebrations wouldn’t happen against the Aggies again.

“It lit a huge flame under this team,” he said. “We showed the nation we can play with anyone.”

The Gamecocks, on the other hand, still have much to prove.

Jenkins, a former first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, didn’t complete a pass until midway through the second quarter. The Gamecocks’ defense, third in the Southeastern Conference a year ago, allowed 212 yards rushing and gave up a 34-yard TD pass by Pierce on fourth down.

South Carolina twice had long drives stall inside the Aggies’ 15 and settled for field goals to lead 13-10 at halftime.