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South Carolina beats N.C. State 35-28 in Belk Kickoff in Charlotte

Deebo Samuel scored three touchdowns for the Gamecocks in a 35-28 win over NC State. PHOTO CREDIT: ABC 15

(AP) - South Carolina used a defensive stand to beat North Carolina State 35-28 in the Belk College Kickoff game at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday.

Down by seven, N.C. State was stopped by South Carolina's defense at the 10-yard line with seven seconds to go.

N.C. State tied the score at 21-21 with 9 seconds remaining until halftime when Ryan Finley tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers.

Finley rushed for a score in the first quarter, and later on fired a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels, which got the Wolfpack within seven at 35-28 early in fourth.

South Carolina built a commanding 35-21 edge in the third quarter after quarterback Jake Bentley completed a touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel and Rico Dowdle added a 7-yard rushing score.

Samuel also opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return and Dowdle scored on a 34-yard reception.

Nyheim Hines' 2-yard touchdown run for the Wolfpack tied the score at 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.

The all-time series is now tied at 27-27-4. South Carolina has won the last three meetings.

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren spent the offseason touting the Wolfpack's depth and experience. His team got a Saturday opener against a power-conference opponent - South Carolina in Charlotte - in the first test of whether the program is ready to take a leap in his fifth season.

"This is what we've been building," Samuels, a senior, said. "This is what everybody has been waiting for."

N.C. State (7-6) returns 18 starters from last year, including 11 seniors for the program's highest number in at least a quarter-century. The list of returnees is headlined by quarterback Ryan Finley and a veteran defensive front led by defensive end Bradley Chubb, a preseason Associated Press all-America first-team pick.

Doeren figures it's the right time for his program, considered a dark horse in a top-heavy Atlantic Coast Conference division, to open against a power-conference opponent for the first time in his tenure.

"I definitely feel as confident as I've felt about our depth," Doeren said.

The Gamecocks (6-7) are in a different spot, coming off a three-year stretch in which they've gone 16-22. Coach Will Muschamp closed his first season frustrated by his team's inability to consistently run the ball against the best competition or stop the run at key moments.

South Carolina boasts a returning quarterback in Bentley, who started the last seven games of his freshman season, and has won 16 of 17 season openers.

"I think we've had a good camp, but talk is cheap," Muschamp said. "We've got to go play on Saturday afternoon and play well, and that's what we plan on doing."

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Some other things to know about Saturday's matchup between the Wolfpack and Gamecocks:

BENTLEY BALL: South Carolina's Jake Bentley began last year as a likely redshirt but starts this year as the center of the Gamecocks' rising hopes. Bentley rallied the team to a 4-2 finish in the regular season to make a bowl game, a huge accomplishment for a team that went 3-9 a season earlier when coach Steve Spurrier resigned in the middle of the year.

WISE MOVE: N.C. State hopes graduate transfer Carson Wise solves its kicking woes. Wise, who played previously at Division II Carson-Newman, started over Kyle Bambard - who made just 12 of 24 field goals in two seasons and missed a 33-yarder to beat Clemson last year. Bambard will handle kickoffs. "He's just really level-headed," coach Dave Doeren said of Wise. "That's been impressive. So I'm excited to see him in the stadium, and obviously gameday is where it counts the most."

MOORE RETURNS: South Carolina senior linebacker Skai Moore returned after missing last season because of neck fusion surgery to fix a herniated disc. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Moore was the team's leading tackler in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He can become the first in program history to do it all four years with a similar season this year. Moore also returned to Bank of America Stadium, where he had two interceptions in the end zone to help beat North Carolina in 2015.

RUNNING GAMES: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp listed three running backs as starters in leading rusher Rico Dowdle, speedster A.J. Turner and North Carolina transfer Ty'Son Williams. As for N.C. State, the Wolfpack used speedster Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gallaspy II and Dakwa Nichols at running back - and versatile threat Jaylen Samuels, too - to replace 1,100-yard rusher Matt Dayes.

SECONDARY QUESTION: N.C. State has a veteran line backed by returning linebackers in Airius Moore and Jerod Fernandez, but the secondary is a question. That's especially true with starting cornerback Mike Stevens out due to what coach Dave Doeren described as a lower-leg injury.

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