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Sept. 3, 2011

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September 3, 2011
Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total
East Carolina 7 17 7 6 37
South Carolina 0 14 28 14 56
Marcus Lattimore Stephen Garcia
Alshon Jeffery Antonio Allen
Connor Shaw Jadeveon Clowney

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No. 12 South Carolina used a huge third-quarter rally to overcome four first-half turnovers to pull away for a 56-37 victory over East Carolina in its season opener on Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium.

The Gamecocks (1-0) avoided the upset by outscoring ECU 28-7 in the third stanza after trailing by 10 points at the half. South Carolina has now won 13 straight season openers, while head coach Steve Spurrier improves to 42-0 against schools outside of BCS automatic qualifying conferences.

The Carolina defense turned the game around for the Gamecocks after a sloppy first half, forcing three turnovers early in the second half that led to 21 points in less than four minutes to take control of the game.

Antonio Allen led the way with an impressive start to his senior campaign at the Spur position as he recorded a career-high 16 tackles, forced two fumbles and had two fumble recoveries, including one returned 25 yards for a touchdown. Junior defensive back Stephon Gilmore tied his career-high with 10 stops, while defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had a stellar debut as a Gamecock with seven tackles and a pass breakup.

Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia, who did not start for the first time in 28 games, came off the bench to give the Gamecock offense a boost after it produced just 59 yards in its first four series. He completed 7-of-15 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 56 yards and two scores to lead the Gamecocks to 351 yards of total offense.

Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore picked up where he left off last season with 112 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Junior Alshon Jeffery hauled in five passes for 92 yards, moving him past Zola Davis (1995-98) for third all-time in receiving yards at Carolina.

The Gamecocks had a rough start to the night as their four first-half turnovers led to 17 ECU points.

After Pirates (0-1) defensive tackle Terry Williams forced the second gamecock fumble of the night at the South Carolina 43, ECU needed just five plays to open the scoring. Dominique Davis connected with Justin Hardy on a crossing pattern for a 25-yard touchdown strike to give the Pirates the lead with 3:13 left in the first quarter.

The Pirates pushed their lead to 14-0 early in the second stanza, as Davis capped a seven-play, 52-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Lance Lewis at the 14:11 mark. Davis, who completed 37-of-56 pass attempts, finished the contest with 260 yards and four touchdowns, while Lewis had 13 receptions for 108 yards and two scores.

ECU forced another South Carolina fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Gamecock 32, which led to a 24-yard field goal by Mike Barbour that gave the Pirates a 17-0 lead with 9:45 left in the half.

Garcia gave the Gamecocks the spark they were looking for in his first series of the night. He completed a short pass to Lattimore on his second play from scrimmage that turned into a 20-yard gain down to the ECU 39. Two plays later, Garcia kept the ball on the ground and raced 32 yards on a quarterback draw for a touchdown. Jay Wooten’s extra point trimmed ECU’s lead to 17-7 with 7:42 remaining.

South Carolina forced its first of five turnovers on the next play, as Ace Sanders punched the ball loose from Reggie Bullock on the ensuing kickoff, and Allen recovered at the ECU 41. A 21-yard pass from Garcia to Jeffery set the Gamecocks up deep in Pirate territory, and Lattimore punched it into the end zone from 4 yards out to pull South Carolina within three points.

ECU answered after South Carolina’s fourth fumble of the half at the Gamecock 29, as Davis hooked up with Joe Womak for an 8-yard touchdown with three seconds left to give the Pirates a 24-14 lead heading into the locker room.

But the Gamecocks turned the momentum early in the second half and never looked back. Allen forced his first fumble on ECU’s first possession of the half, and Shaq Wilson recovered it at the Pirates 31. Garcia found Jeffery for a 25-yard gain down to the ECU 9, and two plays later the veteran signal caller completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Sanders to help the Gamecocks pull to within 24-21.

After another Pirate fumble on the next possession, Garcia put South Carolina in front for good with a 10-yard touchdown run with 10:40 left in the third quarter.

Allen then forced his second fumble of the night at the ECU 25 on the ensuing possession, recovered it and raced 25 yards for a touchdown, giving South Carolina a 35-24 lead with Wooten’s extra point.

Sanders put an exclamation point on South Carolina’s victory at the 9:46 mark of the fourth quarter as he weaved his way down the field for a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown to give the Gamecocks a 56-31 cushion. Sanders’ punt return was the Gamecocks’ first for a touchdown since Nov. 15, 2003 against Florida.

The Gamecocks open Southeastern Conference play next Saturday as they begin defense of their Eastern Division title at Georgia. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. in Athens, Ga. The contest is scheduled to be televised on ESPN.