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September 3, 2011

Five key plays

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In a back-and-forth, 56-37 game, it is hard to identify just five key plays, but we'll do our best. It probably makes sense that, other than the last one, each of the plays marked a change in momentum that led to several more big plays.

Shaw fumbles on the opening drive

South Carolina won the toss and elected to receive. It looked like a good move as the Gamecocks drove down to the East Carolina 19. Then on 2nd-and-10, Connor Shaw scrambled away from pressure and tried to dive for extra yardage. He got sandwiched between two defenders and lost the ball. Chris Baker recovered for the Pirates, ending the scoring threat. Shaw's confidence also seemed to take a hit. He was fairly sharp on that first drive, but did not complete another pass the rest of the quarter. The Gamecocks ended up fumbling on three of their first five possessions as East Carolina built a 17-0 lead.

Garcia enters the game and South Carolina finally gets in the end zone

Stephen Garcia took over for Shaw in the second quarter as planned, and immediately made a difference. His first pass was incomplete, but he followed with a 20-yard swing pass to Marcus Lattimore, a run and a handoff. Then on 3rd-and-3, Garcia kept the ball on a zone read and rushed 32 yards up the heart of the East Carolina defense for a touchdown.

Golightly forces a fumble on the ensuing kickoff

The Gamecocks had life, and on the next play, they seized momentum. Pirate returner Reggie Bullock ran the kick back 30 yards to the 41 when freshman safety Sharrod Golightly stripped the ball. Antonio Allen fell on the loose ball, and the Gamecocks needed just five plays to get back in the end zone. Thanks to the turnover, it took just 3:51 for the Gamecocks to score two touchdowns and take momentum away from the Pirates.

Allen forces a fumble on the second play of the second half

East Carolina led 24-14 at the half and got the ball first in the second half, giving the Pirates a golden chance to put the Gamecocks in a deep hole. Instead, Allen put the Gamecocks in control. Dominique Davis threw wide to Lance Lewis, who caught the ball and lunged forward. As he stretched out, Allen knocked the football loose and Shaq Wilson recovered. One official ruled the play an incomplete pass, but was overruled by another, who said it was a catch and fumble. The play was reviewed, but the play was upheld. It was the first of three straight Pirate possessions that ended in a fumble, and the Gamecocks converted all three turnovers into touchdowns to take a 35-24 lead.

The pressure finally gets to Davis

In the fourth quarter, East Carolina was still within striking distance, down 42-31. South Carolina had gotten pressure on Davis all night, but Davis had been able to avoid any sacks or bad throws. The continued pressure finally paid off with 12 minutes remaining. Travian Robertson and Jadeveon Clowney got backside pressure, and Davis hurried his throw. Melvin Ingram dropped into coverage, and the pass floated right to him. It was Ingram's first career interception, and the Gamecocks added another Lattimore touchdown to put the game out of reach.

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