SPARTANBURG -- Powered by its first-half shutdown defense, South Carolina ended a two-game losing streak to North Carolina with a 31-24 win on a rain-soaked Saturday afternoon at Gibbs Stadium.
Poised to win three straight for the first time since 1949-51, North Carolina was unable to settle into any rhythm due to South Carolina's stifling defensive pressure, led by defensive MVP Sterling Lucas. North Carolina won the previous two meetings; 28-24 in 2005 and 23-16 last year.
Lucas, from Orangeburg-Wilkinson, finished with eight tackles, including one for a loss, a fumble recovery and a 19-yard interception return midway through the second quarter. Lucas came up with two game-changing plays: an interception 5 yards deep in the end zone and a fumble recovery that set up a quick strike for the Sandlappers. His interception was from the hands of Illinois-bound quarterback Thomas Wilson.
"It was a case of me being in the right place at the right time," Lucas said of his interception. "It was a big play. They were on the goal line, and it kept them from making the touchdown."
Coach Reggie Kennedy, from Orangeburg-Wilkinson, hammered home to his team all week about getting a big stop in the red zone, and it was one of his own players to come up with the stop.
"We wanted to get a turnover or get them to go four-and-out," he said. "And we were fortunate enough to get a turnover and get us out a hole."
Clemson-bound DaQuan Bowers paired with Lucas to limit the North Carolina offense to 42 yards on 12 plays in the first quarter. The Tarheels warmed up in the second quarter and had 155 total yards at the half compared to South Carolina's 193.
Chester's C.C. Whitlock, one of two Herald-area players on the South Carolina roster, started on special teams and was quiet in the secondary throughout until he snagged a last-minute interception that was negated by a pass interference penalty. Had it been a clean play, Whitlock would have likely returned it to pay dirt to punctuate the South Carolina win.
The Chester product, who will finish high school on Wednesday, knows that when playing in an all-star game, the subs are just as good as he is.
"When the people that start go out and the backups come in, they are as good as you," he said. "Everybody on the team has to play and I got in and made a couple plays."
Whitlock will enroll at South Carolina in January, and he will play for the Gamecocks next fall.
Dion Foster, a defensive lineman for the Lewisville Lions, played out of his normal position and didn't record a tackle in his Shrine Bowl appearance. He has been offered a scholarship at Auburn but has yet to make a decision.