No. 13 Tigers miss four field goals, have punt blocked in loss

ATLANTA (AP) -- Mark Buchholz missed one kick after another, a couple sliding left of the upright, the other two going wide right. Not that he was the only offender on the Clemson special teams, which weren't very special at all.

While Buchholz was missing four field goals, Georgia Tech blocked a punt to set up its only touchdown and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return, leading to a field goal that finished off a 13-3 upset of the No. 13 Tigers on Saturday.

Over the last four years, Georgia Tech has had six opportunities to avenge a loss of 21 points or more from the previous season. All six times, the Yellow Jackets have responded with a win, including a victory over No. 13 Clemson on Saturday.


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For good measure, Georgia Tech also shut down Thunder and Lightning. James "Thunder" Davis rushed for 60 yards, while C.J. "Lightning" Spiller was held to 2 on nine carries -- the dynamic duo coming up 270 yards short of their performance a year ago in a 31-7 rout of the Yellow Jackets.

But it was special teams, the often overlooked phase of the game, that was the deciding factor.

"It just goes to show you how important the special teams really are," said freshman D.J. Donley, who blocked the punt and recovered the fumble on the kickoff. "We take so much pride in it."

They had reason to feel proud. Travis Bell chipped in with a couple of field goals from 48 and 41 yards to complete Georgia Tech's total domination in the kicking game.

"When we have meetings with the special teams, everybody gets involved," said Tashard Choice, who rushed for 145 yards despite a sore hamstring. "We know the importance of special teams. This was a classic example."

Georgia Tech (3-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) snapped a two-game losing streak and avoided its first 0-3 start in league play since 1994.

Buchholz, who had made 6-of-8 field goals in Clemson's first four games, booted a season-long 48 yarder just over a minute into the game. But it turned out to be a terrible homecoming for the junior from suburban Atlanta.

He was wide right from 30 and 48 yards, and wide left from 47 and 50. Maybe Buchholz was still tired from a soccer game the previous night, having assisted on both Clemson goals in a 4-2 loss to Duke before making the 2-hour drive to Atlanta. The school did not make him available for comment after the game.

"The last three or four weeks, he's had a [soccer] game on Friday night," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "I've got to make sure I'm doing good with his schedule and time management. It's uncharted waters for me as far as how much we're asking him to do."

Clemson (4-1, 2-1) also had a touchdown called back because of a personal foul penalty, and gave Georgia Tech a do-over at the end zone with a pass interference penalty.

Choice, who was limited by his hamstring the last two weeks, conceded that it was still hurting, but he managed to carry the ball 32 times and scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter.

"I wasn't at 100 percent," he said. "I lied the whole week, but I had to. It was absolutely hurting me to watch my teammates struggling like they've been."

On the other side, the Tigers showed little inclination to run between the tackles and couldn't hold off Georgia Tech's blitzing defense.

"You could almost see the confusion," defensive tackle Darryl Richard said. "They're going to make some plays. But you can't let 'em get the 50-yard run. What was their biggest run today?"

Davis for 12 yards.

"Twelve yards and 50 yards, that's a big difference," Richard said, breaking into a satisfied smile.

Spiller looked more confused than anyone after running for 116 yards in last year's win over the Yellow Jackets, in addition to catching a 50-yard touchdown pass.

"I let my team down," Spiller said. "There were a lot of holes I should have hit."

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper was sacked six times and went 17-for-39, including his first interception of the season.

The Tigers were coming off a 608-yard performance against North Carolina State, the fourth-best in school history. They managed only 228 yards against Georgia Tech.

Georgia Tech actually made the first big mistake on the first snap. Center Kevin Tuminello stepped on the foot of quarterback Taylor Bennett, who stumbled and fumbled trying to hand off to Choice.

Still, the Yellow Jackets went ahead after Donley stormed through the middle of the line and smothered a punt by Clemson's Jimmy Maners. The Yellow Jackets recovered at the 8 and punched it over four plays later with a big assist from cornerback Haydrian Lewis, who was flagged for pass interference in the back of the end zone on a third-down pass that was incomplete.

The Tigers' final possession of the first half was especially deflating. They used up the final 5:09 with a 19-play drive, converting five straight third downs.

But Spiller's apparent 6-yard touchdown catch was wiped out by a personal foul on left guard Chris McDuffie, who jammed his hands into the face of Richard. It was a pretty obvious call; the defensive lineman had his helmet ripped off.

On the final play of the half, Buchholz missed his shortest attempt of the day.

"During the game, it's hard to root for him," said Bell, a friend of the Clemson kicker from their days playing soccer together in the Atlanta area. "But after the game, you feel for him."

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