It may be the most pressure-packed moment in all of sports.
The last-second field goal.
For a kicker at any level, but especially college, it is the measuring stick that separates the good from the great. Convert the kick and your team wins, making you a hero on campus for the rest of the week. Miss the kick and your team (in most cases) loses, making you seriously consider not leaving your dorm room until next week’s game.
I decided to find out exactly how many Gamecock placekickers had passed their position’s greatest test and kicked the Gamecocks to victory. How many times has South Carolina in its 121-year history won a football game thanks to a last-second field goal?
Diving Into The Abyss
Before we continue, it’s important for you to understand the parameters I was searching for. In order for it to count, the kick had to be made on the final play of the game, whether in regulation or in overtime. This meant that Elliott Fry’s eventual game-winning 40-yard field goal in the second overtime against Missouri of 2013 wouldn’t count (since the Tiger offense got one last drive). Neither would Billy Dupree’s 43-yarder to give the Gamecocks a nail-biting 17-16 win over Virginia Tech in 1969 (since there were nine seconds left to play after the kick). No, only game-ending, game-winning boots would be accepted in this search through Gamecock history.
The most recent kick was fairly easy to find. With the score knotted at 28-28 and seven seconds remaining on the clock, Daniel Weaver knocked home a 42-yarder on the final play of the 2002 Outback Bowl to push the Gamecocks past Ohio State. I remember watching that game in my living room, surrounded by half-empty bowls of chips and other remnants of the New Year’s Eve celebration the night before, as Weaver clinched South Carolina’s third bowl win in school history.
It was after Weaver’s kick that the search truly began.
Neither Spencer Lanning nor Ryan Succop, both Spurrier Era kickers now earning paychecks in the NFL, ever made a last-second game-winner. Reed Morton, South Carolina’s most decorated kicker of the 1990’s, also didn’t make one during his career. Not even Collin Mackie, the school’s career record holder with 72 made field goals in four seasons, knocked a single last-second game-winner through the goalposts during his time in Columbia.
Every day for nearly two weeks, to the occasional amusement and gradually growing annoyance of my wife, I scoured the Gamecock media guide. I went year by year, searching for any wins in the program’s history that had been decided by three points or less. Once a game was found, it was time to look through online newspaper archives, hoping to come across a game story. Billy Dupree’s game-winning kick against the Hokies was one of many near misses. As I made my way further back into the 20th century, the newspaper articles started to dry up, the coverage of football becoming less important. Undeterred, I switched over to the archives of the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock. Still, I found nothing. I was now making my way through the first decade of the 1900’s. I had gone so far back that the field goal was now worth four points.
Suddenly, I spotted a glimmer of hope.
Right smack in the middle of South Carolina’s only undefeated season, 1907, sat a possibility, a 4-0 victory over Georgia Medical College on November 7th. All that remained now was to check the archives, just like I had for dozens of other contests. However, this game would not be so easy to research. John Chandler Griffin’s book, The Encyclopedia of Gamecock Football, claimed the game ended with Georgia Medical leaving the field in protest. I had to find out if it was true.
Nothing turned up.
The Daily Gamecock was not published until 1908. The Richland County Public Library possesses online archives of The State, but the website required a library card number and a PIN number. I pleaded with friends and family members to send me their library information. One of my aunts sent me her numbers. At last, I could end my search.
The archives skipped from 1904 to 1909.
The school’s Garnet and Black magazine was a possibility, but the early editions of the publication featured no recaps or box scores for athletic teams, only final scores.
Georgia Medical College, a college of Georgia Regents University, was in its first season of football in 1907. The University appears to have disbanded its football program in the 1930’s and I found no records of the team’s first season, much less a box score from the South Carolina game.
At this point, the only other option was to drive to USC and look through the libraries on campus. Of course, I couldn’t do that. I had a job and a wife and responsibilities and…
The Lost Field Goal
I sat at a computer in the South Caroliniana Library, squinting at microfiche. A 107-year old copy of The State scrolled across the screen.
“CAROLINA MADE GOAL FROM FIELD”
“The Georiga Meds Thereupon Protested Much”
It turns out that the first last-second game-winning field goal in Gamecock history wasn’t supposed to be a last-second game-winning field goal.
The South Carolina Board of Trustees had banned football during the 1906 season and the reinstatement of the sport in 1907 meant the Gamecocks would play an abbreviated, three-game schedule. South Carolina dispatched Charleston 14-4 on November 16th. Five days later, Georgia Medical arrived in Columbia.
With 15 seconds remaining in the first half of a scoreless game, South Carolina quarterback Heyward Gibbes dropkicked the football (no punters as placeholders back then) through the uprights to give the Gamecocks a 4-0 lead. However, the players from Georgia Medical “declared that the ball went outside of the posts.” The referee, a “Clemson man” named Mr. Ellison (yes, potential referee bias was also a hot topic in 1907) refused to overturn the call and the Georgia Medical team refused to emerge from the gymnasium for the second half, thus bringing the game to an end and awarding a 4-0 victory to South Carolina.
The Gamecocks wound up beating The Citadel 12-0 the following week in Charleston to cap the program’s only undefeated season in school history.
A season that never would have happened if not for a Gamecock win that ended on a field goal on the game’s final play.
South Carolina has played 1,180 football games and has won 583 of those games. Two, that’s right, two, of the Gamecocks’ wins have come on a last-second field goal. That accounts for 0.34% of South Carolina’s victories. Daniel Weaver and Heyward Gibbes share a special, if unlikely, place in Gamecock history.
There is no telling when the next last-second game-winning field goal will come for South Carolina. After all, there was a 948-game drought between the first two. Current Gamecock kicker Elliott Fry has never even attempted one. He was asked to try a 58-yard kick to prolong last year’s game against Tennessee but came up short. Only two of Fry’s 18 made field goals from 2014 came during the fourth quarter and both came with South Carolina in front (a 20-yarder with a 30-23 lead over East Carolina and a 23-yarder with a 38-10 lead against Furman). Besides, it’s no secret that Steve Spurrier prefers touchdowns to field goals.
Even if the field goals come in pairs.
“Did y'all know that? Seven's better than six.”
Still, there may come a day, perhaps in the fall of 2015, when a field goal is all South Carolina needs to win a football game. When the Gamecocks, either trailing or tied, only have time to run one more play. When Steve Spurrier, noted lover of touchdowns, decides to put his team’s fate on the foot of a kicker.
If that day comes, I have just one request for Fry.
Please, for the sake of researchers everywhere, make the kick.
Weaver and Gibbes are waiting.