Alshon Jeffery’s 70-yard touchdown catch broke a fourth-quarter tie and kept No. 17 South Carolina in control of the SEC East with a 38-24 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.
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The Vols (2-6, 0-5 Southeastern Conference) had rallied back from a 14-point deficit on a pair of touchdown passes from backup quarterback Tyler Bray to tie the game 24-24.
That’s when Stephen Garcia found Jeffery in the middle of the field and the SEC’s leading receiver outraced three defenders to the end zone with 12:17 to go.
Garcia sealed the win for South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) with his second rushing touchdown, this one from 1-yard out with 3:28 left.
The Gamecocks are the East’s only two-loss team. They can clinch their first berth in the SEC title game with wins over Arkansas and Florida in the next two weeks.
South Carolina freshman Marcus Lattimore had a career-high 184 yards and his 11th rushing touchdown in his first start since spraining an ankle in a 31-28 loss at Kentucky two weeks ago.
Things haven’t gone well in Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s first season. The Vols were run over by Georgia and Alabama in the past two weeks and Dooley compared his team to German troops watching the Allies’ D-Day invasion during World War II.
Tennessee, though, showed it wasn’t ready to give up anything to South Carolina with its second-half rally.
The Vols pulled off their first successful fake punt since 2004 as Chad Cunningham ran for 25 yards on fourth-and-10. On the next play, Bray connected with Denarius Moore on a 30-yard scoring pass to pull within a touchdown.
Bray and Moore were at it again on Tennessee’s next series. The two combined for a 64-yard reception to the Gamecocks 2 and, after a personal foul penalty pushed the Vols back, Bray hit Gerald Jones for a 17-yard touchdown to tie it up at 24-all.
That’s when South Carolina struck back with Jeffery’s catch and run. He had only one reception for 5 yards until that point.
For Tennessee, Moore had six catches for a career high 228 yards.
It was South Carolina mistakes that kept the Vols in it early on.
The Gamecocks moved 72 yards to the Tennessee 3, but Garcia threw an interception — forcing the ball to the triple-covered Jeffery.
Things tipped back the Gamecocks way in the second quarter when Lattimore carried seven times for 51 yards, the last a 1-yard TD run that put South Carolina ahead 10-3.
But Tennessee responded quickly. Matt Simms found Moore for a 13-yard pass on third-and-10 and ended the series with a 12-yard touchdown toss to wide open tight end Luke Stocker.