By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
When he thinks back to the influences he had on the Clemson-Georgia rivalry during the Eleven Year War from 1977-’87, former Clemson kicker David Treadwell does not think about his 46-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Bulldogs in 1986 or the 21-yard kick he made with two seconds to play in 1987 to beat them, again.
Instead, he flashes back to his freshman season in 1984, when as a walk-on, he stood on the Clemson sideline in Athens, Ga., and watched as Georgia’s Kevin Butler made a 60-yard field goal to beat the Tigers.
“That was a memory that I will never forget,” he said.
But it’s a memory that motivated Treadwell two years later when he stood on the same field, but this time he was the one lining up to kick a game-winning field goal.
“Of course it was not 60 yards,” Treadwell laughed. “I did not have the kind of leg Kevin Butler did, but I had a 46-yarder with four seconds left on the clock and truly it is a great memory. It was a great time celebrating with the team and it was a very memorable game.
“It was also a very impactful game for us as we moved forward.”
Clemson’s win over the Bulldogs in 1986 kick started the Tigers on a run that saw them win four Atlantic Coast Conference Championships over the next six years—three straight from 1986-’88—as well as record 57 victories. It is still the greatest six-year stretch in Clemson history.
But the kick also motivated Treadwell for the rest of his career. Six times he won or tied a game for Clemson in the last three minutes, including four more times after his winning kick in 1986.
“That kick was huge for my confidence,” said Treadwell, who was a consensus first-team All-American in 1987. “At the time it was early in my junior year. I was coming off a pretty good sophomore campaign and I wanted to back that up. Anytime you can make a kick like that in hostile territory against a big rival, it’s huge for your confidence.
“I was able to take that and continue to get better and better. I think with kicking, and there are a lot of guys that have the physical abilities, but it is the mental toughness that will get you through those situations. They are not going to all go through (the uprights) unfortunately, no matter how hard you work. You just can’t let those few that don’t get to you.”
One of Treadwell’s six kicks in the final three minutes came in the 1987 Clemson-Georgia clash in Death Valley when his 21-yard field goal with two seconds to play lifted the Tigers to an amazing 21-20 victory over 18th-ranked Georgia.
“Actually, I probably felt more a part of that game because I had four field goals on the day,” Treadwell said. “We had the big momentum shift where we got the safety to close the gap. Our defense made a great play there in the end zone and we got the ball back, which put us in field goal range because up until that time, we were down by four points.”
Clemson, ranked eighth at the time, trailed the Bulldogs, 20-16, after Georgia running back Rodney Hampton carried the ball into the end zone from eight yards out with 8:59 to play. It was the first rushing touchdown the Tigers had given up all year.
Up until that point, Clemson had controlled the game. Georgia only managed 96 yards of offense the entire second half and 74 of those came on that scoring drive. The Bulldogs’ other touchdown came on a 76-yard punt return from Nathaniel Lewis in the second quarter.
The Tigers rushed for 261 yards on 56 carries and outgained the Bulldogs 337-268 overall.
“It did feel like we were in control of the game, but the scoreboard did not indicate that,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell gave Clemson a three-point lead in the third quarter, 16-13, with a 29-yard field goal after the Bulldogs muffed a punt inside their own 10-yard line. After stopping Georgia on the ensuing possession, the Tigers were on the move again as quarterback Rodney Williams directed a 55-yard drive that moved the ball to the Georgia 25 before it bogged down.
But Treadwell’s 42-yard attempt, which could have given the Tigers a six-point lead, was wide left.
Now playing with a little more confidence, the momentum swung Georgia’s way. Quarterback James Jackson led the Bulldogs on their best drive of the game as he totaled 52 of the 74 yards, including a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Kirk Warner. Hampton scored three players later to cap the drive.
On the Tigers’ ensuing possession, they moved the football to the Georgia 44-yard line where the drive stalled. Then something crazy happened that has not happened since. It was indicative of how this rivalry had played out during this era.
Rusty Seyle’s punt hit at the nine-yard line, bounced to the one, where it took a long bounce in the air. Clemson’s Chinedu Ohan was chasing the ball and before the ball crossed the plain of the goal line, he used his left foot to kick the ball backwards to John Johnson, who caught the ball at the one-inch line. Johnson was able to keep his momentum from crossing the plain, thanks to a couple of teammates who grabbed him and yanked him back.
“The crowd just went nuts after that,” former wide receiver Keith Jennings remembers. “It was so loud you could not hear a thing. We knew then we were going to get the ball back with a chance to win the game because we knew our defense was going to make a play for us.”
With 6:23 to play in the game and still clinging to that four-point advantage, Georgia tried to move the ball out from its goal line. The Bulldogs didn’t care if they picked up a first down or not, they just could not afford to give up a safety.
But that’s exactly what happened. Jackson first tried a quarterback sneak that went for no gain as nose guard Tony Stephens nearly broke through and caught him in the end zone. On the next play, Georgia head coach Vince Dooley called for an option to the left on second down.
The Clemson defense was not fooled as Johnson and defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry got penetration, forcing Jackson to bounce the play outside. Cornerback James Lott was able to fight off the block of running back Lawrence Tate to grab a hold of Jackson. He hung on just enough as safety Gene Beasley brought Jackson down in the end zone for a safety.
“That’s a play that you could make ten yards on or one that could lose yardage,” Dooley said. “I’m disappointed in myself for making that call because I really don’t think Clemson would have scored a touchdown on us.”
And because of the safety, the Tigers no longer needed to. After Donnell Woolford returned the free kick 17 yards to the Clemson 42, tailback Wesley McFadden ran off two runs for 14 yards and then Terry Allen darted off the left side for 11 yards to move the ball to the Georgia 33.
After fullback Chris Lancaster got only three yards on first and second down, Clemson head coach Danny Ford called for an option play to the short side of the field instead of throwing the ball. Williams faked the fullback dive and pitched the ball to Allen, who appeared pinned up along the left sideline.
Allen made the first guy miss and then broke the tackle of a second would-be-tackler as he cut inside and bounced it to the right sideline. That’s when he made a third Georgia player miss before finally going down 17 yards later at the Georgia 13.
“That was a huge play,” Treadwell recalls. “If he doesn’t make that play, we would have had to kick a longer field goal and it would have left some time on the clock.
“TA always had the capability to break off a run like that. The guy had the most amazing balance. He was an unbelievable running back. I remember the stadium erupting with this enormous roar when he made that play so I immediately ran to the nets knowing I was going to get another opportunity. I got a couple of warm up kicks in the net and I was ready to go.”
With the clock running under a minute, McFadden teamed up with fullback Tracy Johnson and moved the football to the four-yard line where Treadwell and company rushed onto the field. With no timeouts, the guy known as “Mr. Clutch,” calmly drilled the 21-yard field goal to win the game.
“That was something we practiced all the time – the hurry up field goal,” Treadwell said. “You occasionally run into those situations where you have no timeouts and no stoppage of play. The clock is running so you have to get on the field and make the field goal. Thankfully, we did it enough that I felt comfortable going out there. I did my routine real quick. It was a shorter field goal and we punched it on through.”
Treadwell’s field goal marked the first time Clemson had beaten Georgia in back-to-back years since the 1905 and 1906 seasons. And in both instances, Treadwell’s foot carried the Tigers to victory.
“For that to happen back-to-back, it’s epic in my mind,” he said. “No one thought it was probably going to come down to that again, except me. The placekicker has to put himself in that situation and have that mindset that this type of game between two big rivals can come down to a field goal.”
And during the Eleven Year War, that always seemed to be the case. After playing every year from 1973-’87, the Clemson-Georgia series was interrupted after Treadwell’s two-game winning kicks. The series resumed again with home-and-home games in 1990 and 1991, 1994 and 1995, and 2002 and 2003.
It will again resume on Aug. 31 in Death Valley before making another curtain call in 2014 in Athens. But, no matter what happens in these two upcoming games, it’s unlikely they will measure up to the intense drama and magnitude that made the 11 games from 1977-’87 one of greatest series in all of college football.
“Anytime you have two great programs, like Clemson and Georgia were in those days, you are going to have games that were close,” Treadwell said. “That certainly developed that rivalry. I also think the fact that the two schools are so close geographically made it even more meaningful.
“It was a phenomenal time. During that era, we actually thought the Clemson-Georgia rivalry was a bigger rivalry than South Carolina. It seemed like the two teams were always ranked high and the game was so impactful on the two teams’ seasons and ability to win national championships and conference championships. There was no question; it was a great era between the two schools.”
Other articles from The Eleven Year War series: