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November 27, 2010

Lanning Leads Historic Win

"I used to come here for years to games," he said. "I always thought it'd be really cool to play here in Death Valley."

Spencer Lanning paused, and then grinned so wide his face almost split.

"I'm just extremely happy that my senior season, not my postseason, but my senior season, ended here in Death Valley."

And ended with Lanning playing a major role in South Carolina's 29-7 win, over the team that he grew up pulling for.

The Gamecocks' fifth-year senior kicker booted three field goals and placed four punts inside the 20-yard-line on Saturday, paving over a spotty offensive showing to deliver USC a used-to-be-unheard-of second straight win over Clemson. Lanning, whose family ties to Clemson had him wearing orange throughout his formative years, became only the ninth USC football player in the past 40 seasons to say collected three wins over the Tigers during his career.

"That's unbelievable," he said, before the grin broke out again. "But it sure is nice to be able to say that."

A standout soccer player at York Comprehensive High School, Lanning turned to football after a knee injury wiped out his potential career on the pitch. An MVP award at the North-South all-star game after his senior season helped get him a little more noticed, but only one big school was willing to offer a spot, and then as a preferred walk-on.

Lanning never hesitated in accepting, despite it being USC and not the school he had always supported. A redshirt year turned into a waiting game behind NFL-bound kicker Ryan Succop, then a promotion to starting punter and then two years of punting and place-kicking.

He had a solid senior year, but had hit a few rough spots toward the end. The normally automatic PATs were hitting the uprights or getting blocked; some of the field goals weren't coming off the foot like they used to.

Saturday started off badly, Clemson's Brandon Thompson getting a finger on Lanning's first PAT try and deflecting it enough so it never reached the crossbar. Sour memories of those haunting missed chip shots that always seemed to come back and bite USC surfaced, but Lanning, one of the Gamecocks' four captains, didn't panic.

"Getting out of your routine is the worst thing you can do," Lanning said during his junior season. "You have to keep doing the same things, all the time every time."

So he did.

A 25-yarder boomed down the middle for a 19-7 USC lead. A 49-yarder had the distance but shanked left. A 37-yarder extended the advantage.

Every punt was high and deep enough for USC's cover team to surround Marcus Gilchrist for minimal gains, and most landed inside the 20-yard-line. Then, as USC was attempting to make a 26-7 lead last, Lanning dropped a beauty in the corner of the field, where it glanced in-bounds and then out at the 1.

"Our kicker/punter, Spencer Lanning, was sensational," coach Steve Spurrier said. "If you're going to win any kind of championship, you have to have a good kicker. We've got a super kicker in Spencer Lanning."

Lanning leaned against a wall in the bowels of the stadium, not seeming fazed by the chilly air and realizing what the Gamecocks had done. USC broke a 40-year streak of never beating their rival in two straight seasons, and still isn't done -- while a 9-3 season is one of the best in school history, the Gamecocks have two more games to play.

For five years, Lanning has seen the program grow and been a part of it. Saturday was grand, getting to lead a sworn enemy that turned into a lifelong tie to a victory, but there is more, much more, on the horizon.

"This means everything," he said. "Everything to me, and everything to Gamecock Nation."

USC-Clemson Game Week sponsored by Mallard Orchard Hunt Club

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