"The Catch" Lives On

It is a game that is still perhaps the greatest game in the 104-year history of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry.

The year was 1977, Clemson was ranked No. 15 by the Associated Press and was coming off an impressive outing against eventual national champion Notre Dame the week before.

The Tigers were also 7-2-1 under first-year head coach Charlie Pell and needed a win against the Gamecocks to assure itself a bowl bid for the first time since the 1959 season.

South Carolina on the other hand fallen upon hard times.

Jim Carlen's team had lost four of its last five games, but ended a four-game losing streak the week before with a 24-14 win at Wake Forest to improve their record to 5-5.

Early on, the Tigers appeared as they were going to roll over their hated rivals when they scored 17 unanswered points in the first half for a 17-0 lead in front of 56,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

Warren Ratchford got Clemson going in the first quarter when he went in from four yards out to cap a 90-yard drive for a 7-0 lead.

Three minutes later, Roy Epps intercepted USC quarterback Ron Bass and returned it 30 yards to the Gamecocks' 10. The Tigers later capitalized on the turnover with an Obed Ariri field goal for a 10-0 advantage.

Clemson's Steve Ryan then recovered a USC fumble at the Tigers 33, and 67 yards later Lester Brown put the Tigers up 17-0 with a one-yard plunge off left tackle.

At that point the Tigers appeared to be on cruise control when Ken Callicutt raced 52 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, giving Clemson a comfortable 24-0 lead.

But the Gamecocks weren't going to roll over and quit that easily.

Tailback Spencer Clark went right then broke two-would be tackles while cutting back to the middle of the field where he galloped 77 yards to make the score 24-7.

South Carolina next cut the lead to 10 points early in the fourth quarter when Steve Dorsey capped a 67-yard drive with an 11-yard run.

The Gamecocks got the ball back a few minutes later after a shanked Clemson punt put the ball at the Tigers' 38. Dorsey again found the end zone, this time from a yard away and after the miss two-point try the score was 24-20 Clemson.

After three Clemson plays netted hardly a yard, punter David Sims' again shanked his punt and the Gamecocks took over at their own 48. On third down from the Clemson 40, Bass hit a streaking Phil Logan over the middle at the Clemson 25, and Logan did the rest as he went down the left sideline for the touchdown.

In less than 15 minutes, the Gamecocks erased a 24-point deficit and appeared poised for the greatest come-from-behind win in the rivalry's history.

But instead, this game is remembered for what happened in the final frantic minutes at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Following a 33-yard kick return on the ensuing kickoff and with time winding down, Clemson quarterback Steve Fuller hit Rick Weddington with a 26-yard pass to the USC 41. Fuller later got the ball to Dwight Clark for an 18-yard gain and a first down at the Gamecocks' 23.

After two plays netted three yards, the Tigers were faced with a third down at the South Carolina 20 and under a minute to play.

What happened next will forever live in Clemson lore as "The Catch."

Fuller started the play by rolling to his left with three USC linemen giving chase and released a tight spiral towards the end zone where wide receiver Jerry Butler made a leaping 360-degree turn while falling backwards into the end zone with the winning touchdown.

Butler said later of the enormous play, "I don't even remember the name of the play Steve (Fuller) called in the huddle. I just remember that my responsibility was a `seven-cut', which was a corner route. But I can still see that ball. It looked kind of white against the black sky."

His 20-yard touchdown with 49 seconds left is still to this day considered the greatest play in the history of the long-time series, and the Tigers' 31-27 victory propelled Clemson into the Gator Bowl and started a string that has seen the program make 22-bowl appearances in the last 30 years.

"That win got us into our first bowl game in six years," Butler said. "And we went again my senior year (both times to the Gator Bowl). All that set the stage, in my opinion, for the 1981 national championship."

Future Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, who was just a freshman at the time, later said of Butler's catch, "It was devastating. How he made that catch, I'll never know."

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