COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw was thrilled with his accomplishments Saturday, even if they didn’t lead the 10th-ranked Gamecocks to the Southeastern Conference championship.
Shaw threw for one touchdown and rushed for another to lead South Carolina to its record fifth straight over No. 6 Clemson with 31-17 victory Saturday night.
“Connor Shaw, ah man, the best quarterback in school history,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “He’s probably the difference maker completely for us.”
Gamecock players rushed to the student section in celebration of the unprecedented win. They’d hoped to have more to celebrate as SEC Eastern Division champs, but No. 5 Missouri defeated No. 19 Texas A&M 28-21 about 45 minutes after South Carolina’s win to eliminate the Gamecocks (10-2).
Shaw moved to 26-5 all-time as a starter and ended his career a perfect 17-0 at home in the sweetest way possible.
“This is why we came to South Carolina,” Shaw said.
The Tigers (10-2) had never lost five consecutive games to their rival in a series that began in 1896 — which they still lead 65-42-4. The loss also left record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd 0-for-4 against the Gamecocks.
“We’ve been achieving things no one at South Carolina’s done before,” cornerback Victor Hampton said. “I told the boys, ‘Don’t stop at five.’ Keep going.”
There’s no reason to think they won’t — and using the same formula of ball control and timely turnovers.
South Carolina forced six turnovers, four of them in the final quarter as Clemson (10-2) tried to rally back after Mike Davis’ 2-yard TD run broke a 17-all time with 11:47 to go.
“Just give them credit. We never had six turnovers before,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That wasn’t part of the script.”
The Gamecocks have a chance at a third straight 11-win season in their bowl. They had just one 10-win season in their history before Spurrier arrived after the 2004 season.
South Carolina put things away with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to break away from 17-all tie. After Davis’ TD, Pharoh Cooper threw a 26-yard TD pass to Brandon Wilds that put things out of reach.
Clemson left the field defeated again and wondering why an offense that sets records in every other game struggles at the hands of its rivals.
“They’re a good team that continues not playing very well against us,” Spurrier said.
The most crushing miscues came in fourth quarter when defensive end Chaz Sutton ripped the ball from Boyd’s arms with the Tigers driving for the tying score deep in South Carolina territory down 24-17.
When the Clemson forced a punt moments later, Adam Humphries fumbled the punt back to South Carolina. That’s when Cooper pass to Wilds put the game out of reach.
Boyd, always a step behind in the rivalry, gave the sold-out crowd at Williams-Brice two final mistakes to cheer about with a pair of interceptions in the final four minutes.
Boyd finishes his career throwing five interceptions and getting sacked 19 times in four games with South Carolina.
“We hurt ourselves for the most part every time we play these guys,” he said.
Shaw completed 14 of 26 for 152 yards and a 9-yard TD throw to Shaq Roland. Shaw also ran for 94 yards and a 3-yard touchdown.
Clemson was desperately trying to escape the 365-day-a-year yoke of its long, long series losing streak coming in. Boyd, the one-time Heisman Trophy contender, has chalked up 57 school and Atlantic Coast Conference records in his career, yet had always come up short in the season-ending game.
Boyd even took a sack by Jadeveon Clowney, who taunted the quarterback this summer by saying he was scared of South Carolina’s defensive front. Clowney hadn’t had a sack since Sept. 14 against Vanderbilt in game three, but put Boyd down to stop a second-quarter drive.
Boyd ended 19 of 27 for 225 yards with two interceptions. He was sacked five times.
Boyd came out firing on Clemson’s first drive, going 5 for 5 and leading the Tigers to the South Carolina 30. That’s when Watkins underthrew Humphries on a half-back pass and Brison Williams moved in for an easy interception.
Shaw led a steady, 17-play march down the field that ended with the senior’s lunging, 3-yard TD. The 17 plays marked the longest Gamecocks scoring drive of the year.
It didn’t take long for Clemson to answer back, Boyd finding Watkins for a 57-yard catch and run. Two plays later, Boyd tied things on his 8-yard run.
The Tigers looked like they might gain back the momentum after forcing a South Carolina punt. But Humphries and Martavis Bryant collided and Gamecocks linebacker Skai Moore recovered.
Shaw had a 16-yard pass to Connor McLaurin to get to Clemson’s 8, then followed that with a TD pass to Shaq Roland.
Clemson cut the lead to 17-10 at the end of the half on Chandler Catanzaro’s 38-yard field goal. The Tigers had averaged 30 points in the first half of their past four games. They had not been held to this few since trailing Florida State 27-7 after two quarters on Oct. 19.
Clowney, Hampton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles are all juniors who took a bow on Senior Day. The trio is expected to head to the NFL after this season.