By Parrish Alford
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Mississippi State players thought they had survived yet another Southeastern Conference war Saturday, especially when the loneliest soldier trotted on to the field.
But seldom-used backup quarterback Erik Kimrey hit Jermale Kelly on a fade route, and resurgent South Carolina rallied against the vaunted MSU defense with 13 points in the final 8 minutes, 8 seconds to win 23-19 before a crowd of 79,949 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Kimrey, a redshirt sophomore walk-on who was not among the six quarterbacks used by the Gamecocks last year, replaced Phil Petty, who was knocked out of the game, on fourth-and-10 from the MSU 25 in a 19-13 game. He placed the throw perfectly, giving Jermale Kelly a chance to make a play.
And Kelly, as he'd done all day, took full advantage for his ninth reception, beating MSU cornerback Kendall Roberson.
South Carolina remains uneaten, now 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. No. 25 MSU drops to 2-1 and 0-1 and will be replaced by the Gamecocks in the polls today.
MSU linebacker Conner Stephens was licking his chops when Kimrey came in.
"I'm like, there's no way he can complete this pass. It's common sense," he said.
But few things were sensible for the Bulldogs Saturday as the Gamecocks beat State for the first time since 1995.
(bullet) State was able to get just two field goals when the defense and special teams gave the offense the ball in the South Carolina Red Zone in the first half.
(bullet) Protecting a 19-13 lead, the offense couldn't convert a third-and-1 from its 36 with six minutes left in the game.
(bullet) After falling behind 20-19 with 4:41 left, the offense went three-and-out with two dropped passes and a sack before punting.
(bullet) After forcing a Carolina punt with 3:38 left, Dicenzo Miller fumbled at the MSU 19.
(bullet) On third-and-10, the defense let Petty escape and pass for a 35-yard gain to keep the go-ahead drive alive.
"We gave one away; there's no doubt in my mind," said cornerback Fred Smoot, who allowed receiver James Adkisson to get inside position on the big third down gainer. "We had the game and let it get away."
Not only did the Bulldogs let it get away late, they didn't take it early.
No matter how many times the Gamecocks tried to give it away in the first half.
After Julius Grifftith blocked and recovered a South Carolina punt, State reached the 6. But on third-and-2, Madkin's pass to Justin Griffith was low and almost intercepted. Scott Westerfield came on to hit from 23 yards for a 9-7 MSU lead with 10:31 left in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs made it 12-7 when Westerfield hit from 31 yards minutes later. The drive was set up at the South Carolina 20 after Edward "Pig" Prather forced a fumble by Derek Watson - Watson's second give-away - and Stephens pounced on it for MSU.
State reached the 8, but was pushed back by a motion penalty and kicked after a 1-yard loss by Justin Griffith and two incompletions.
"They kept hanging around, and we didn't throw the knockout punch," MSU coach Jackie Sherrill said. "When it's third-and-1, you've got to make the first down.
"We have a good football team, but there are a lot of things we've got to get better at. When it's third-and-10, we missed the tackle and gave them an opportunity to get down there. We have to be more consistent on offense and defense. We have to make plays."
State took a 6-0 lead with 10:33 left in the first on a 27-yard fumble return by Mario Haggan. Westerfield missed the extra point.
The offense did put together a 12-play, 93-yard touchdown drive late in the third quarter. Miller's 11-yard touchdown run made it a 19-10 game with 6:20 left in the period.
Suddenly, MSU had a two-possession lead, and the clock was moving. There was the feeling the defense was about to take over.
"Players on scholarship are expected to make plays," senior defensive end Ellis Wyms said. "We could have made more plays on offense and defense. It's a team thing."