CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley rolled out of the pocket and heaved a ball downfield in the direction of a streaking Deebo Samuel he had complete faith his favorite target was going to haul it in.
Well, sort of.
“If he would have dropped that pass in the end zone I might have killed him,” Bentley said with a laugh.
He didn’t drop it.
Instead, Samuel reached out and snared the ball with one hand in the corner of the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown reception, giving South Carolina the lead and propelling them to a 35-28 victory over North Carolina State in the season opener for both teams.
Samuel returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score and caught two touchdown passes from Bentley in an impressive victory over a Wolfpack team that started the season five spots outside of the Top 25.
“He probably won’t say it, but I don’t think anyone in the country can guard him,” Bentley said of Samuel.
Deebo, what do you think?
“No comment,” he said with a smile as the press room erupted in laughter.
Samuel may not be much of a talker, but he certainly can play.
He finished with five catches for 83 yards and his kickoff return set the tone for the game. North Carolina State pulled even three times, but could never grab the lead.
“We work on scramble drills every other day in practice and when he rolled out I kept running,” Samuel said. “When I see the ball coming I knew I had to make a play.”
“Phenomenal catch,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said.
Bentley threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns, including strikes of 39 and 6 yards to Samuel as the Gamecocks won their 17th season opener in the last 18 years.
Gamecocks safety D.J. Smith broke up a pass from Ryan Finley in the end zone on fourth and goal with six seconds left to preserve the win.
Finley threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns on 45-of-64 passing for North Carolina State. Jaylen Samuels had 15 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown and Kelvin Harmon had 10 for 114 yards for the Wolfpack.
But the Gamecocks scored 14 points off two North Carolina State turnovers, which turned out to be the difference in the game.
“Turnovers is a skillset we work on every day and he will have to look at as a staff how we’re coaching it,” Doeren said.
The biggest came in the third quarter right after Samuel’s touchdown catch.
South Carolina defensive end Dante Sawyer came crashing through the line and sacked Finley, stripping him of the ball. Bryson Allen-Williams hopped on the loose ball at the Wolfpack 13.
Two plays later Rico Dowdle scored on a 7-yard run for a 14-point lead.