COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Ticker) -- Erik Ainge threw three touchdown passes and No. 12 Tennessee overcame a sluggish start to post a 43-29 victory over South Carolina in a Southeastern Conference matchup.
Ainge's first TD pass came with just 30 seconds left in the first half and Brent Schaeffer's two-point conversion run tied the score, 8-8. Ainge hit a wide-open David Holbert for the score from 21 yards out and Schaeffer scampered into the end zone on a quarterback draw.
South Carolina (5-3, 3-3 SEC East) dominated play for the first quarter and a half but had only an 8-0 lead to show for it. The Gamecock defense stuffed Gerald Riggs for a safety and Josh Brown kicked field goals from 27 and 37 yards.
"Obviously we are really happy to get the win. This team just has tremendous character and toughness and I admire that a lot," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "South Carolina is a good football team. They played extremely hard. Us keeping them out of the end zone and forcing field goals was key."
Tennessee (7-1, 5-1 East) capitalized on the momentum built by its second-quarter score and took the lead for good on the first drive of the second half. Ainge, who completed 9-of-16 passes for 109 yards and was intercepted once, fired a 24-yard scoring toss to Chris Hannon just under two minutes into the third quarter for a 15-8 edge.
"We cannot give up the big play," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. "We gave up more today than we have the whole year."
Ainge's third TD pass of the game came with 6:47 left in the third and extended the advantage to 22-8. The Volunteers needed only three drives and 4 1/2 minutes to score 22 unanswered points.
"We have that capability offensively with some big play potential," Fulmer said. "The first drive of the second half, to go ahead and get the score was big. Took the crowd out of it and kind of gave our kids momentum."
Cedric Houston rushed for a career-high 190 yards and a TD on 15 carries to help Fulmer remain unbeaten against South Carolina. Fulmer is 12-0 all time against the Gamecocks.
Dondrial Pinkins completed 30-of-42 passes for 305 yards for South Carolina, which scored 21 fourth-quarter points but never got closer than 14.
"It's very disappointing," Pinkins said. "We had opportunities in this game and we just didn't execute."
Ainge set a new Tennessee record for TD passes by a freshman quarterback with 16. Casey Clausen threw 15 during the 2000 season. Ainge is now 4-1 as the Vols' starter, including a 3-0 mark on the road.