KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Volunteers toppled the 11th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks 23-21 with a final-play 19-yard field goal from senior kicker Michael Palardy.
The win snapped the Vols' 19-game losing streak against ranked opponents dating back to the Halloween game against South Carolina in 2009. The Vols trusted their double-duty punter/kicker with the winning kick after punting on a fourth down near midfield with just over three minutes left in game time.
Tennessee was pushed out of Palardy's 51-yard range due to a 15-yard illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty in the fourth quarter, and coach Butch Jones had confidence in his defense to get a stop and another chance for his kicker.
"A game can be decided by two or three plays, but you never what two or three they're going to be," Jones said later.
"Mike [Palardy] and I were in line for dinner last night. I looked at him and I said, 'You've got the game winner tomorrow, right?' He looked at me and said, 'I've got you, Coach.' He's been playing exceptionally well for us."
The game came down to the wire, and Palardy just had to make a short field goal. But he still had to kick it.
"It meant everything," he said. "It's been a long time coming and I want to give it up to the offense and defense for putting me in that position. I couldn't have done it without the plays that they had made."
Palardy missed a 46-yard field goal in the third quarter, but he didn't let his concentration falter.
"That's kind of my main focus: game winner, game winner, game winner," he said. "If that situation does come, how am I going to execute? That's the mentality I've prepared myself for ever since [Coach Jones] came here in the spring."
The 19-yard kick sailed through the uprights with no time left on the clock for his first winning field goal. A host of Vols chased him in excitement and joy as Neyland Stadium erupted in a roar of cheers.
"I kind of gave up running after a while," Palardy recalled. "I was out of breath. I was in awe, and it all happened so fast. It was my first experience kicking a game winner. It was unbelievable. I couldn't breathe for a minute. It was a great experience."
Palardy also helped his team with his punts by pinning the Gamecocks inside their own 20-yard line a career-high six times. He averaged 40.4 yards on eight punts with a long of 64.
"It helps us out a lot," defensive tackle Daniel Hood said. "It puts their backs against the wall. We know they can't do a big drop-back pass because they don't want to give up a safety as well. And it gets us fired up, too, when we see something like that."
Contact Sam Gilbreath at email@example.com
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