Louisiana Tech drops heart breaker at South Carolina

September 24, 2017 GMT

COLUMBIA, South Carolina – For the second straight week, Louisiana Tech found itself trailing late on the road against a formidable opponent -- this time in SEC country against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium.

And for the second straight week, sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith led a long scoring drive that allowed Jonathan Barnes to kick a 25-yard field goal with 55 seconds to play, giving Tech a 16-14 lead.

However, the Bulldog defense which shut South Carolina off the scoreboard through the first three quarters allowed Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley scramble 24 yards and then complete a 41-yard Hail Mary to Bryan Edwards, setting up the game-winning 31-yard field goal by Parker White as USC defeated Tech 17-16 before over 71,000 fans.

“I’m proud of them and the way they competed,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “They played a great game. We asked them to come in and play tough, both mentally and physically. They did both. To win an SEC road game is as mentally hard as it is physically. It was a hard fought game. I give USC a lot of credit. They made the plays at end that they needed to. It’s a wave of emotions to go through. It’s a frustrating way to lose. I’m proud of our team and the way they competed.

“We made a lot of mistakes against Mississippi State and today we got a second chance. We are improving. It’s a long process and a long season. We have to take the hurt and the pain and grow from it.”

Tech led 6-0 at halftime and pushed the advantage to 13-0 on a 3-yard TD pass from Smith to Teddy Veal with 8:54 to play in the third quarter. The Bulldogs appeared poised to put another stake in the hearts of USC late in the third quarter, driving inside the USC 5-yard line.

However, on a third-down and goal play, Smith tried to force a pass that was intercepted, negating the Bulldogs chance to add points to the scoreboard. USC rode the momentum of the turnover as Bentley drove the Gamecocks 97 yards on 16 plays, the final 28 yards coming on a TD strike to OrTre Smith with 11:06 to play in the game. White’s extra point cut the Tech lead to 13-7.

Following a pair of three-and-outs by the Tech offense, USC took only two plays to drive 74 yards as the Gamecocks took their first lead of the game on a 35-yard scoring run by Ty’Son Williams. White’s extra point gave USC a 14-13 lead with 4:52 to play.

Tech wasn’t done. After a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff pushed the Bulldogs back to the eight yard line, Smith led a 10-play, 84-yard drive capped by Barnes 25-yard boot. The drive was highlighted by a 42-yard hookup to Teddy Veal that gave the Bulldogs possession at the USC 25. Tech led 16-14 with under a minute to play.

“We got some pressure on the quarterback,” said Holtz. “The scramble at end of game was just one of those things. Things like that are frustrating. I thought the defensive line played very physical. I didn’t think our offensive line played very well. We had way too many unblocked hats. I didn’t think we played well up front and couldn’t run the ball and had to put a lot on J’Mar. Outside of one play, he played an outstanding game. For a sophomore to come into this venue and play like he did, I’m very proud of him.”

With 55 seconds to play and no timeouts remaining, USC took over on its 21-yard line. Back-to-back incomplete passes set up a third down and 10 with 36 seconds remaining. Under heavy pressure, Bentley escaped the rush and scrambled 24 yards to the USC 45 yard line for a first down.

With the clock running down, Bentley then threw up a prayer into a crowd of players and Edwards outjumped a trio of LA Tech defenders, batted the ball into the air and came down with the catch, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Smith ended the game 23-of-33 for 281 yards and one score while Veal recorded career-highs with 10 catches for 110 yards and one score. Rashid Bonnette added six receptions for 94 yards.

Aaron Roberson and Russell Farris led Tech with eight tackles while DeMarion King and Brandon Durman added seven tackles.

The Bulldogs return home next Saturday to host South Alabama at 6 p.m. at Joe Aillet Stadium. For tickets, call 318-257-3631 or buy online at LATechSports.com.