COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Spencer Rattler completed 19 of 27 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns and Xavier Legette caught nine of those passes for 94 yards as South Carolina beat Kentucky 17-14 on Saturday night.
When the Gamecocks (5-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) needed something after six straight drives that went nowhere, the senior quarterback found the senior receiver on 3rd-and-15 deep in their territory early in the fourth quarter to keep alive what turned out to be the winning drive.
“That was huge, just to get us going,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said. “We hit a big play. Spencer to Xay.”
The Gamecocks started November in a big hole, but three straight wins have left them on the cusp of a bowl bid if they can beat bitter rival Clemson next week.
“Right now it’s like the playoffs,” said South Carolina defensive back Nick Emmanwori who had an end zone interception. “We have to win or stay home.”
The Wildcats (6-5, 3-5) have lost five of six since starting the season 5-0.
“It’s not a good recipe to win on the road with critical penalties and turnovers,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose team turned the ball over three times and had seven penalties for 52 yards.
South Carolina took a 10-0 lead, but went stagnant, gaining just 25 yards on its next six drives.
Then came the Rattler-to-Legette completion for their first third-down conversion in over two quarters. Seven plays later, Rattler found Legette again for a 17-yard TD that gave South Carolina a 17-14 lead.
Ray Davis, the SEC’s second leading rusher, ran 12 times for 61 yards for Kentucky. Devin Leary was 17-of-34 passing for 171 yards with a touchdown.
“That’s a very difficult loss for us right there. We didn’t do a better job of putting them in position to be successful,” Stoops said.
Down to just two running backs, South Carolina rushed for just 50 yards. Rattler was the team’s second leading rusher.
“We kept playing the field position game and punting and our defense kept making stops, which was huge,” Beamer said,
Kentucky: Remember when the Wildcats were 5-0 and heading for a SEC East leading showdown with No. 1 Georgia? It’s been all downhill since that 51-13 loss to the Bulldogs. Kentucky can dash their in-state rival Louisville’s slim playoff hopes next weekend.
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South Carolina: The Gamecocks often maligned defense held Kentucky to 296 yards, but even more importantly forced three turnovers and held Kentucky to its fewest points this season outside of Georgia. It’s been a slog at times, but what Beamer has called “a November to remember” and a bowl bid is within reach if they can knock off Clemson. That seemed like a tall task after losing 30-17 to Texas A&M on Oct. 28 to fall to 2-6.
South Carolina invited Finnish techno star Darude as its guest of honor. His “Sandstorm” became an unofficial anthem for Gamecocks athletics 15 years ago.
It plays before football kickoffs, basketball tip offs and baseball and softball first pitches amid a sea of waving white towels.
Darude held a pregame concert and enthusiastically pumped the crowd up during the game. He met Beamer at midfield and thanked the coach for the win.
“You got us over the hump,” Beamer told Darude as the DJ stuck his tongue out and screamed “Yes!”