Bentley threw for 152 yards and a touchdown and the Gamecocks stopped Tennessee on downs twice in the final quarter to rally from 12 points down to beat the Vols 27-24 on Saturday in Southeastern Conference play.
“It’s a huge SEC win for us and it’s huge for our team,” Bentley said. “The resiliency that our team showed the past couple of weeks and tonight really was a testament to our coaches and the culture that we have here.”
Bentley was hurt against Kentucky last month, missed a dramatic win over Missouri the next week as his backup Michael Scarnecchia starred, then played a dreadful first half in a 26-23 loss to Texas A&M two weeks ago where even an average game might have saved the Gamecocks.
Bentley heard the boos, plenty of them.
“I’ve had great teammates who’ve lifted me up the past couple of weeks,” he said. “But it’s our job to come out here and win.”
Parker White’s 25-yard field goal with 5:52 remaining was the difference.
South Carolina defensive end D.J. Wonnum, back after missing five games with an ankle injury, sacked Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano on fourth down with 1:08 to go to seal the win.
The Vols (3-5, 1-4) looked like they had gained control when they went up 21-9 on Carlin Fils-aime’s 14-yard TD run early in the third quarter.
But with the previous six meetings in the series decided by 20 a total of points, there was little chance this one wouldn’t tighten up.
“We played some good football today,” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We didn’t finish the game. We made mistakes and they took advantage of it.”
The Gamecocks (4-3, 3-3) began the comeback on Rico Dowdle’s 1-yard touchdown run. Following a Vols field goal, South Carolina responded again.
Bentley connected with Bryan Edwards on a 73-yard pass to the Tennessee 2 and two plays later Ty’Son Williams bulled in for a 1-yard TD run.
Bentley ran past three defenders for a 2-point conversion and a 24-24 tie.
After Javon Kinlaw knocked down Guarantano’s fourth-down pass with 9:47 to go, Bentley led the Gamecocks to the Vols’ 8 to set Parker up for the go-ahead kick.
Tennessee drove to midfield the final time it had the ball before Wonnum wrapped up Guarantano on fourth-and-10.
Dowdle ran for a season high 140 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season.
BETTER BEGINNING, BUT ...
Tennessee finally got off to a quick start.
Guarantano helped the Vols convert four third downs on a 71-yard TD drive that ended with a 6-yard pass to Jauan Jennings to put the Vols up 14-3.
He celebrated his touchdown by placing the ball on the stomach of defender Steven Montac as he lay in the end zone, drawing a penalty and setting up a late South Carolina touchdown after it began at its 40.
The Vols played without starting left tackle Trey Smith, who is suffering from blood clots in his lungs and is out indefinitely. Pruitt said Smith was out of the hospital.