College Football Old School Game of the Week: Butler’s 60-yard FG gives Dawgs upset win over Clemson
When he arrived at the University of Georgia for the 1981 season, kicker Kevin Butler had big shoes to fill.
Not only was he going to play as a true freshman kicking for the defending national champions, he would be replacing Rex Robinson, a 2-time All-American who had scored a then NCAA all-time record 56 field goals (six from more than 50 yards) and 101 consecutive extra points after the missing the first extra point attempt of his career as a freshman.
Not only did Butler fill Robinson’s shoes, he would go on to break Robinson’s mark of field goals by kicking his 57th career field goal during the first game of the 1984 season as well as becoming the school and Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading scorer.
But Butler’s greatest moment would come two weeks after setting those records when he and the #20 Georgia Bulldogs played host to the #2 Clemson Tigers at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.
1984 was seen to be a rebuilding year for head coach Vince Dooley entering his 21st season as the Bulldogs head coach as Georgia lost 15 starters from the 1983 team that had finished 10-1-1 with a #4 ranking after defeating Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The lack of experience in the starting lineup made the Dawgs a slight underdog to Clemson who was entering the second year of their two-year probation period because of recruiting violations.
Despite the probation, the Tigers were still a force to be reckoned with as they returned quarterback Mike Eppley, who had been the 3rd most efficient passer in the nation during the 1983 season, and a defensive line that featured the Perry brothers, Michael Dean and William, who would go on to become the “Fridge” for the Chicago Bears.
Clemson controlled the first quarter as the Tigers jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Eppley to tight end K.D. Dunn and a 22-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike, which was set up by a 26-yard reception by Dunn.
After the Clemson field goal, the Dawgs seemed to get on track as they were able to trim the lead to 10-6, thanks to a pair of field goals by Butler from 34 and 51 yards, respectively.
In between the successful field goals, Butler shockingly missed a field goal from 26 yards, the first time he had missed a field goal that was 30 yards or less since his freshman year.
The Tigers regained the momentum after Butler’s 51-yarder as they drove 70 yards in five plays for another Eppley touchdown pass, this one to running back Terence Flagler for 27 yards to put Clemson back up by double digits at 17-6.
Clemson had a chance to put Georgia in an 18-point hole after defensive back Tyrone Davis picked off quarterback Todd Williams on the Dawgs’ first play of their ensuing possession, to give the Tigers the ball at the Dawgs’ 30-yard-line.
However, the Tigers had to settle for another Igwebuike field goal, this one from 43 yards out to give Clemson a 20-6 halftime lead.
The Dawgs were fortunate to be down only two touchdowns as Williams had been intercepted four times in the first half, but only allowed three points off the INTs.
The Tigers got the ball to start the second half but gave it back to the Dawgs when a botched handoff between Eppley and running back Kenny Flowers led to a fumble that was recovered by Caryle Hewitt, giving Georgia the ball at the Clemson 30-yard-line.
Three straight running plays gained nine yards and set up a 4th-and-1 where Dooley decided not to put Butler back on the field and instead go for the 1st down.
The gamble paid off as Lars Tate gained two yards and two plays later, Williams found Herman Archie in the right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown that brought the Dawgs to within seven points, 20-13, early in the third quarter.
Following an exchange of punts, the Tigers drove to inside Georgia territory only to have Eppley fumble the ball again with cornerback Kevin Harris recovering it for the Dawgs, leading to a 66-yard drive that was capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Cleveland Gary, who would transfer to the University of Miami following the 1984 season, that tied the game at 20 with 1:13 left in the 3rd quarter.
Eppley’s struggles would continue as he was threw two interceptions on the Tigers’ ensuing possessions, but was fortunate as it did not lead to points as the Clemson defense held and forced Georgia to punt both times following the turnovers.
Then with 10:20 left in the 4th quarter, Eppley was running for a Clemson first down when he was stripped of the ball by Georgia cornerback Jeff Sanchez, leading to a mad scramble that was recovered by defensive end Calvin Ruff, 20 yards from where the ball was stripped, at the Georgia 45-yard-line.
The lost fumble was the seventh turnover of the game for Eppley, all committed by Eppley as he had three fumbles and four interceptions.
The Dawgs ran the ball seven straight times for 27 yards to set up Butler’s 43-yard field goal that gave Georgia its first lead of the game at 23-20 with 6:03 left to play.
Eppley was able to pull himself together on Clemson’s ensuing possession as he completed four passes to drive the Tigers from their own 20-yard-line to the Georgia 32-yard-line where the drive stalled after three straight incompletion, the last one being a dropped pass by Dunn that would give the Tigers a 1st down.
Igwebuike came on to the field and made a 48-yard field goal that tied the game at 23 with 2:10 remaining in the game.
With no overtime in those days, the Dawgs could have stuck to their ground game and simply run out the clock and come away with a 23-23 tie, which would have been a positive result for the young team at this point of the season.
But with a weapon such as Butler, Dooley decided to go for the win.
The drive began at the Georgia 20-yard-line with two completed passes to Fred Lane and Tron Jackson that netted the Dawgs 11 yards and a 1st down.
Following an incomplete pass, Williams handed it off to Tron Jackson, who ran 24 yards to the Clemson 45-yard-line for a 1st down.
That is where the drive stalled as the Dawgs would only gain one more yard on the next three plays to force Dooley into a decision on whether to go for the field goal at that spot or try to get a 1st down and give Butler a better chance to make a field goal.
Dooley signaled for the field goal and Butler would come on to the field to attempt a 60-yard field goal to win the game.
As if having to try a field goal from 60 yards out was not hard enough, Butler would have a 10 miles per hour wind in his face.
But as soon as he hit the ball, Butler started to run down the other side of the field because he knew his kick was good, which it was, to give Georgia a 26-23 lead with 11 seconds to go and sending the over 80,000 at Sanford Stadium into a frenzy.
Butler and the Dawgs were so excited that they drew a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty, meaning they would have to kick back to the Tigers from their own 25-yard-line, instead of the 40, giving Clemson a shot a good runback on the kickoff.
Butler’s kick bounced to the Clemson 20 where it was picked up by Ray Williams, who proceeded to run about 10 yards, then threw a backwards lateral which landed into the hands of Terrence Roulhac who ran all the way down to the Georgia 35-yard-line where he was knocked out-of-bounds as time expired.
Clemson head coach Danny Ford argued with the officials that there was time left on the clock when the play ended and that was Roulhac was hit when he went out-of-bounds but to no avail as the Dawgs came away with a 26-23 victory.
The loss was the first of four for the Clemson Tigers during the 1984 season as they wrapped up their probation with a 7-4 record.
As for Georgia, they would end the regular season with a three-game losing streak , making it the first time since 1979 that they did not win at least 10 games.
The Dawgs still received a bowl bid as they played Florida State to a 17-17 tie in the Citrus Bowl which ended with Butler’s 70-yard field goal attempt as time expired came up inches short.
Butler would join the Chicago Bears and was the placekicker during their 1985 Super Bowl championship season.
Butler would remain with the Bears for 10 more years until he was released from the 1995 season and would go on to play more two more seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before calling it quits.
Then in 2001, Butler became the first and so far only placekicker to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.