Nov. 24, 2007
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Mark Buchholz finally gave his Clemson soccer buddies what they wanted.
All season long, they pestered their teammate about kicking a game-winning field goal. Buchholz delivered against Clemson’s biggest rival, a 35-yarder as time expired that lifted the 21st-ranked Tigers (9-3) to a 23-21 win at South Carolina on Saturday night.
“They’ve been saying all summer, ‘I can’t wait for the moment you kick a game winner,”‘ Buchholz said. “I’m just kind of upset I can’t celebrate with them since they’re all home for Thanksgiving.”
Buchholz did plenty of celebrating with his football teammates, who ran and leaped on the field after the kick sailed through.
Offensive lineman Barry Richardson carried Buchholz as the Tigers dogpiled nearby. The win was their ninth in the last 10 tries at Williams-Brice Stadium, and left South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier with the longest losing streak of his stellar career.
The Gamecocks (6-6) had been 6-1 and sixth in the country last month. However, they closed with five straight defeats, surpassing the four straight Spurrier lost in 1987 in his first season at Duke.
“We’re just not real good, and we’re not coached real well, which is my fault,” Spurrier said.
For a while, it looked like Spurrier pushed all the right buttons again. The Gamecocks rallied from a 17-7 deficit and led 21-20 on Blake Mitchell’s third TD pass with nine minutes to go.
But Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper guided the Tigers into position.
“I mean, you always want to go out a winner,” Mitchell said. “But it just didn’t happen that way.”
That’s because Harper found Aaron Kelly with a 12-yard pass on fourth-and-4. The two connected again moments later on an 18-yard pass to South Carolina’s 16.
Then Buchholz calmly hit the game-winner. A week ago, Buchholz was short on a 54-yarder at the end that would’ve tied things in the Tigers’ 20-17 loss to Boston College that cost them a chance at the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
Buchholz wouldn’t let a few missed kicks get to him.
He went several weeks this summer and fall without a break from practice, doubling up on the soccer pitch and the football field. He attend games with the soccer team, then traveled to join the football Tigers either late the night before or early the day of games.
The stress got so bad, Buchholz and his family talked with Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and soccer coach Trevor Adair about finding some free time.
“I was being pulled a lot of places,” Buchholz said. “I guess the pulling really took a strain on me and I was getting tired of it.”
During Clemson’s bye week in October, Buchholz went home to regroup. “I realized that a lot of people would love to be in my situation,” Buchholz said. “I just tried to enjoy the second half of the fall.”
Now, he’ll get to enjoy it so much more.
“I can’t grasp it right now,” he said. “Maybe it’ll sink in after I graduate.”
Buchholz knows what can happen when you miss a big kick in the rivalry. He watched his friend, Jad Dean, close a standout career by missing a 39-yard kick that would’ve tied things in Clemson’s 31-28 loss to South Carolina.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “This fall was real busy for me and it’s nice to end it with a bang like this.”
Harper finished 28 of 38 for 229 yards and his 27th touchdown pass.
Kelly had nine catches for 134 yards, his third game this year with over 100 receiving yards. He’s got 84 catches on the year to break the single-season school mark of Rod Gardner, who had 80 receptions in 1999.
James Davis rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries and C.J. Spiller had 88 yards.
Kenny McKinley had eight receptions for 125 yards. He had 77 catches for the season, breaking the 21-year-old mark of former NFL star Sterling Sharpe (74).
The Tigers appear headed for the Peach or Gator bowls, finishing with five victories in their last six games.
Bowden improved to 7-2 against South Carolina, and 2-1 vs. Spurrier.
Not many things had gone right for South Carolina during its four-game losing streak. That trend continued against Clemson.
Mitchell’s first throw was picked off by Chris Chancellor, setting up Buchholz’s 48-yard field goal.
Three minutes later, Nelson Faerber slid past blocker Mike Davis to block Ryan Succop’s punt and La’Donte Harris took it 10 yards for a touchdown to put Clemson ahead 10-0.
After Clemson scored on Faerber’s second career TD, return man USC Chris Culliver carried the kickoff into the end zone from the field of play to start the Gamecocks on their 1.
The Gamecocks seemed to grab momentum right before halftime on Carlos Thomas’ 67-yard fumble return after a catch by Clemson tight end Brian Lithicum. But replays showed Lithicum’s knee was down. Instead of South Carolina with first-and-goal at the 8, the Tigers kept possession.
South Carolina now awaits a possible postseason bid, with administrators trying to out-jockey other six-win schools for any available bowl slots.
Spurrier opened rivalry week saying his players’ “attitude stinks,” then publicly clarifying his remarks a day later after apologizing to the Gamecocks.
After the latest loss, Spurrier tried to find hope that the season could continue.
“There may be a way we can get a bowl bid,” Spurrier said. “I was proud of the way they scrapped and clawed.”