Red zone failures cost Tar Heels against South Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore had a gut feeling Marquise Williams was going to throw into the middle of the end zone with the game on the line.

So he dropped back into coverage and waited, all the while watching the eyes of the North Carolina quarterback.

It turns out Moore gambled right.

Moore intercepted Williams’ pass on a fourth and goal from the 8-yard line with 3:48 left in the game to help seal South Carolina’s 17-13 win over North Carolina on Thursday night.

“We were hype about (being in that situation),” Moore said. “We were like, it’s our time and we have to prove to the world and show them what type of defense we are.”

It was Moore’s second interception of game — both coming in the end zone.

The Gamecocks intercepted Williams three times on the night and registered four sacks. For Moore it was the eighth and ninth interceptions of his career. He also finished with a team-high 10 tackles.

Williams finished 19 of 31 for 232 yards and one touchdown.

[callout2]”I knew better than to do that,” Williams said of the turnovers. “I’ll bounce back stronger next week. It was great to be back home, but it was sad that I couldn’t come away with the victory, how I wanted it to be and make a statement from the first game.”[/callout2]

Elijah Hood led UNC with 138 yards on 13 carries and Bug Howard had six catches for 114 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown reception.

But North Carolina coach Larry Fedora inexplicably took Hood out of the game when the Tar Heels reached the South Carolina 9 with the game on the line.

“I have to go back and look at the calls of what we were doing down there,” Fedora said.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he felt “fortunate” to escape with a win.

“We’re not strutting out of here like we’re hot stuff, that’s for sure,” Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks trailed 13-10 in the fourth quarter when third-string running back Shon Carson entered the game and made an immediate impact, racing around right end for a 48-yard go-ahead touchdown with 12:45 left in the game.

The Gamecocks kept going to Carson on the next drive, running right on almost every play. Carson finished with 75 yards on four carries — all in the fourth quarter.

“It was a wonderful idea putting him in the game,” Spurrier said of the decision by running backs coach Everette Sands.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Mitch was 9 for 22 for 122 yards and a touchdown in his first career start before leaving with a hip injury in the fourth quarter. Spurrier said he expects Mitch to start Sept. 12 against Kentucky if he’s healthy enough to play.

Mitch started slow missing on his first five passes but improved as he became more comfortable in the pocket.

Known as a traditional pocket passer, Mitch showed some surprising mobility rushing for a team-high 47 yards on seven carries in the first half. He also showed some feistiness, penalized 15 yards for taunting after completing a first down pass in the third quarter.

“When I first started off, I had a little jitters obviously, but that comes with the game,” Mitch said. “But as the offense settled in, we started moving the ball consistently.”

The Tar Heels were coming off a horrendous season on defense allowing a school record 39 points and 497.8 yards per game in 2014.

But under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik they tackled better and applied more pressure for three quarters, shutting out the Gamecocks in the first quarter and taking a 13-10 lead into fourth quarter.

“Their defense got the best of our offense,” Spurrier said.