By Josh Hyber/Photo by SC Athletics
COLUMBIA, MO. — Outside the one-carousel baggage claim at Columbia Regional Airport, taxi drivers tell horror stories about travelers who land here in Missouri … and think they’re in Columbia, South Carolina.
Of the gas station owner from India, who flew to Missouri instead of South Carolina and had to pay a driver $1,100 to take him to Nashville, Tenn., where family met him and took him to the S.C. capital. Of the business man who asked to be taken to a Hilton, only to realize there was no Hilton in Columbia, Mo.
This wasn’t the case for Deebo Samuel.
The South Carolina receiver knew where he was on Saturday and why: business, as evidenced by the red and blue plaid sport coat he arrived wearing. He also knew how to take care of it.
Samuel found the end zone twice for SC, leading the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0) to a 31-13 victory over the Tigers (1-1, 0-1) at Faurot Field, keeping the Mayor’s Cup in South Carolina for a second-straight season.
“The Mayor’s Cup going back to Columbia, South Carolina, how about that?” Gamecocks’ head coach Will Muschamp boasted to his team postgame in its locker room.
With the victory, the Gamecocks begin a season 2-0 for the first time since 2012.
SC quarterback Jake Bentley, despite starting several drives backed in his own territory, completed 18 of 28 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.
Ty’Son Williams, who Muschamp said would have more carries this week, had 78 yards on 14 tries. Rico Dowdle — who’s dad sat in the stands wearing a “Dowdle For Heisman” shirt — took 14 carries for 48 yards.
Defensively, Jamyest Williams and Bryson Allen-Williams had interceptions while on special teams Kaleb Chalmers recovered a Joseph Charlton punt after Tiger return man Johnathon Johnson muffled it.
But in the “Show Me” state, it was Samuel who showed why he’s one of the country’s most explosive playmakers, racking up 167 all-purpose yards (25 rushing, 45 receiving, 97 return).
“Whenever we need a spark plug for our team, he’s that guy,” Bentley said of Samuel. “He’s that guy who wants to make the big play. He wants the ball in his hands.”
Said receiver Bryan Edwards, twice after the game, “Number one is a special guy when he gets the ball in his hands.
“He can go for seven at any time.”
For the second consecutive week, Samuel returned a 97-yard kickoff return to pay dirt, cutting a 10-0 deficit to 10-7 three minutes in to the second quarter. With the return, Samuel became the first Gamecock since King Dixon in 1957 to return a kickoff for a touchdown in back-to-back games.
“When I see a gap, I just hit it,” Samuel said. “Whenever I get the ball, I’m trying to put it in the end zone.”
Muschamp laughed when asked if opponents may start directing kicks away from Samuel, like NC State did after the return man brought one back for a touchdown 13 seconds into the season opener.
“I think they should keep trying,” the coach joked.
Samuel now has a school record three kickoffs returns for touchdowns, all of which have come in the last five games.
Williams came down with his interception on the very next play, giving the Gamecocks the ball at the Tigers' 26-yard line.
Then Samuel did it again.
The man known as “Uno Captain” took a jet sweep 26 yards for a score. Just like that, the visitors had the 14-10 lead they held for the next 12:37 until halftime.
“When you’re on the road, you’ve got to kill their momentum,” Muschamp said. “… You need to make plays like that on the road to put the fire out.”
On the team’s opening drive of the second half, Bentley stuck the ball in Williams’ stomach, but pulled it out just in time to find Hayden Hurst on a slant. The tight end took it 39 yards for a touchdown — his first of the season — to extend the lead to 21-10.
After a quick drive gave the Tigers the ball in the red zone, Rashad Fenton and D.J. Smith broke up back-to-back plays to force a field goal. Tucker McCann converted the 22-yarder, cutting the Tigers’ deficit to 21-13 with 6:31 to go in the third quarter.
But SC answered with three of its own on the ensuing possession on an Alex Woznick 32-yarder moments before the third quarter came to an end.
Then came what was most likely the nail in the coffin.
“The big thing I saw in the second half was third-down defense and third-down offense,” Muschamp said. “We stayed on the field and we maintained drives. And we got off the field on third down, defensively.”
Tiger return man Johnathon Johnson whiffed on a return attempt and Gamecock Chalmers pounced on it.
Hurst capitalized several plays later, bulldozing several Tiger defenders on a two-yard end around for a score to give the Gamecocks a 31-13 lead with 10:25 to go in regulation.
“That was probably the first time I’ve run the football since Pop Warner,” Hurst said. “I was licking my chops there a little bit.”
Allen-Williams then intercepted a Lock pass — his third interception in the past four games —that was tipped by Javon Kinlaw.
As the Gamecocks held on in the second half for the second-straight week, it was much of the same back-and-forth grinder in the first.
South Carolina drove 12 plays in 5:36 on their opening possession, but Alex Woznick was wide left on a 33-yard FG attempt.
Missouri scored on its ensuing possession on a 43-yard Tucker McCann field goal.
After Samuel’s two scores, the Tigers had a chance to cut its deficit, but Javon Kinlaw preserved the 14-10 lead with 1:12 to go until the half with a blocked field goal.
“It was an outstanding team win,” Muschamp said. “We answered offensively. We answered on special teams. We played great red-zone defense. We did things that good football teams do on the road in this league.”
As for the Mayor’s Cup trophy, Muschamp proudly held it high in the Gamecock locker room.
Said Hurst, “It’s huge. It’s great to be bringing the Mayor’s Cup back to Columbia (South Carolina).”