The junior placekicker atoned for his two earlier missed field goals by splitting the uprights from 35 yards out as the clock hit 0:00 on the Williams-Brice Stadium scoreboard, which displayed the final score of Clemson 23, South Carolina 21.
Prior to his game-winner that will forever be remembered, Buchholz had missed one from the exact same distance of 35 yards and another from 46.
“I was just happy that the offense was able to drive down the field and give me another chance at it,” he said. “It shouldn’t have come down to that at the end. If I would have made one of the other ones, we would have been up by nine. But I’m happy I just got another shot and was able to put it through and we were able to get the win.”
Usually when kickers make contact, they can tell right away if it’s a good one or not. Buchholz said afterwards he had no clue.
“I can’t say that, because the one I pulled, I hit it really well and it was from 46 and it hit halfway up the net,” he said. “I thought I hit that well and I pulled it. I knew I hit (the last one) well and when I looked up and it was going right down the middle, I was relieved.”
The winning kick is exactly the opposite of what happened for the Tigers last year, who saw their game end when Jad Dean missed a 39-yarder at the buzzer. For nearly a year straight, Clemson fans have blamed Dean for that loss to the Gamecocks.
Buchholz admitted thoughts of Dean danced through his head immediately after missing his second field goal.
But nothing but positive images raced through his mind when trotting out to the field with just four seconds left in the game.
“I don’t have too crazy a head, I don’t think,” he said. “I was just trying to stay relaxed and put it through. … I just tried to stay relaxed just like all the other kicks and take the same swing at it as I always do.
“If they wouldn’t have drove down and given me another chance at it, you guys would be ripping me for missing two field goals instead of making the game winner.”
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said he didn’t have any second thoughts in letting Buchholz attempt the game-winner.
“The only thing that concerned me a little was him missing the last two,” he said. “But Mark is a pretty tough guy mentally. He was due. The odds were in his favor.”
Buchholz got his shot at redemption because the offense, which had failed to take advantage of several opportunities to put the game away early, finally came to life and didn’t fold under pressure.
The Tigers (9-3) began their final drive at their own 22 with 2:09 left to play. Ironically enough, that was the exact same spot that Clemson started its game-winning drive in 2005.
Right from the get-go, Clemson wasted little time in getting up field as quarterback Cullen Harper hit receiver Aaron Kelly on a post pattern for a gain of 26 yards to put it at the 48.
Kelly, who was the last remaining healthy starting receiver for the Tigers, was inexplicably left wide open by the defense of South Carolina (6-6).
With Jacoby Ford already out for the season, Tyler Grisham was taken to Richland Memorial Hospital due to a hit he took to the chest in the first half. Thus, Kelly was it.
This, however, is when things began to get dicey for Clemson. Harper was sacked and tailback C.J. Spiller lost a yard on a pass reception to set up third-and-18 at its own 40.
“I kept reminding myself that (we had two downs to get 18 yards) and I kept believing,” Tigers offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. “I was thinking about 2005 and thinking a little bit about that phrase from Mark 9:23, all things are possible to him who believes. And we just kept believing.”
On third down, Harper hit Kelly for a 14-yard pass to the South Carolina 46 to set up a fourth-and-4 and give the Tigers a little bit of hope.
Not succumbing to the pressure this time around, Kelly made another big catch, this time a slant for 12 yards to put the ball at the South Carolina 34 to keep the drive alive. Kelly wasn’t about to drop this one.
“It’s definitely special,” Kelly said. “It’s definitely special that we had the confidence to call my number at the end of the game, especially after what happened last week. It makes me feel good for them to have that type of confidence.”
However, this time Clemson wasn’t going to settle for a long field goal as it did a week against Boston College. The Tigers wanted to get this attempt as close as possible.
So once again, Harper found Kelly over the middle, this one going for 18 yards all the way to the Gamecocks 16, to put Buchholz in perfect position to make the kick.
“We knew we needed only three points,” Harper said. “The line did a great job and gave me time and Kelly made plays. We finished the job.”