As the second-quarter punt arched off the foot of South Carolina’s Sean Kelly, it seemed bound to make a coaching decision backfire. The USC offense faced fourth-and-2 from Central Florida’s 43, and if the ball rolled for a touchback, a 23-yard net might not be worth losing the chance to retain possession.
The ball seemed headed for the goal line, landed just before it, and stopped.
Kelly’s punt thumped about on the one-yard line, got batted down by a teammate and after a review was placed at the two. One play later, defensive end Boosie Whitlow pulled down a UCF tailback in the end zone for a safety, turning a special teams gem into points in the Gamecock’s 31-14 win.
It was part of an almost-flawless day for Kelly, who averaged 45 yards per kick, placed three of four inside the 20 and didn’t allow a single return.
“Sean Kelly, he’s an excellent punter, and holder,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “We just had one misfire on the extra point, but other than that, special teams have been good all year.”
The misfire was what prevented a perfect day, as he couldn’t handle a snap on a late extra point that ended with kicker Elliott Fry heaving it out of bounds. Kelly closed the game by walking over to the stands and giving away a pair of gloves to a young fan in the first row.
Kelly’s day was one part of a balanced output from the specialists, notably Landon Ard getting touchbacks on five of his seven kickoffs.
Fry opened his day with a career best, putting the Gamecocks on the board with a 52-yard first-quarter field goal, the longest of the junior’s career. He added kicks from 27 and 33, the last providing a little extra peace of mind in the final minutes.
He was almost perfect, but for an early 49-yarder that caught the right upright.
“He did clank one,” Spurrier said. “But what was he? Three-out-of-four? He’s really good. And that last one was very good to have on the board also.”