CLEMSON – The 2013 season’s first football party between Clemson and South Carolina took place on Monday at Riggs Field, and it was the Tigers who got the biggest kicks – and biggest kick - in a 2-1 Labor Day victory that came in the second overtime period.
Freshman Thales De Melio Moreno, a Brazilian midfielder by way of Florida, scored the game-winner with a rocket at the 101:36 juncture to lift Mike Noonan’s squad to a 2-0 record and 24-16-1 series lead.
The goal game after momentum had clearly shifted in favor of the Gamecocks (1-1), who flipped the script in the second half.
“It was my best moment since coming to Clemson,” Moreno said. “I don’t even remember much other than just taking the shot and seeing it go in. It was a win and that’s the important thing.”
Noonan was both pleased and relieved after his team walked off the field with the victory.
“I think it was fairly obvious,” he said. “In the first half we came out and played great and then we lost our way. But give credit to South Carolina – they played an excellent game.”
The Tigers led 1-0 at halftime and looked poised to add more early in the second half.
Instead, USC fought back the challenge and started to turn the tide.
“We seemed tired and they seemed to be getting energy,” Moreno said. “It was scary in the second half.”
The Tigers dominated possession in the early going, launching a frenzied attack at the Gamecocks and keeping the visitors off balance with crisp passing. However, Mark Berson’s team packed in tight around the goal and kept the hosts at bay.
But just over 20 minutes into the match Clemson initiated a counter attack that ultimately resulted in the first goal of the game.
With CU on the move, Carolina’s Mahamoudou Kaba was called for a handball during a cross from Jack Metcalf, and Thomas McNamara set up to take a penalty kick.
The midfielder – a grad student from Brown University – powered a worm-burner past USC keeper Robert Beebe to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at the 22:03 mark of the first half.
After 45 minutes the stats were more lopsided than the score, with the Tigers outshooting the Gamecocks 7-2 and holding a 5-0 edge in corner kicks.
“Early in the second half we should’ve scored a couple more goals,” Noonan said. “But South Carolina played really good defense and then they went on the attack.”
USC finally got back in it on a terrific header by Kaba at 54:27.
The junior defender was situated six yards from the left post when he went up for the ball on a corner, knocking it low and bouncing it past Clemson netminder Chris Glodak.
Roughly 10 minutes later the Gamecocks looked to be headed for the go-ahead score when Ive Burnett corralled a ball inside the box and took a hard shot.
Incredibly his effort hit the far post, bounced back and clanked off the near post, then rolled harmlessly away.
“We made some adjustments at half time and I thought the guys did great,” Berson said. “We dominated the first part of the second half. We got the goal and had a couple of other chances to put them away; we just couldn’t finish them.”
There was no separation between the rivals until Moreno pulled the trigger on the game-winner, a shot from 20 yards out that didn’t stop until it was buried in the right back corner of the net.
It was his first collegiate goal.
“I was told about how big the South Carolina rivalry was (Sunday),” Moreno said with a smile. “So this makes me even more happy.”
Clemson outshot USC 17-10 and held a 9-4 edge in corner kicks.
“In the overtimes, I thought it was pretty even,” Berson said. “We had a couple good opportunities to win and they just didn’t fall for us. It’s a tough way to lose, but I take a lot more positives out of this game than anything else.”