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No day off for Trojans’ Buehler

Times Staff Writer

David Buehler might as well have been Ferris Bueller as far as USC fans were concerned. They had never seen the junior college transfer attempt a field goal in a game, and he had played sparingly on special teams.

The sophomore was listed as a fullback-kicker-safety on the depth chart.

Now he’s so much more.

The seldom-used Buehler kicked a 49-yard field goal late in the third quarter Saturday night at the Coliseum, sparking the Trojans to a 23-9 victory over California that assured them of at least an appearance in the Rose Bowl.

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“That was really cool,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said. “That was a lot of stuff that happened in those few moments.”

The unprecedented moment was set up by an unprecedented quandary.

Trailing the Golden Bears by three points and facing a fourth and 15 at the Cal 32-yard line with 4 minutes 15 seconds left in the third quarter, the Trojans had three options:

* They could punt the ball.

* They could test the leg of Mario Danelo, who had kicked every field goal the team had attempted this season but had limited range.

* They could go with Buehler, their never-before-utilized long man.

Carroll turned to Buehler. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound player who wears a “cowboy collar” like so many tough-guy fullbacks, sent the ball through the uprights with room to spare.

“I was more confident than nervous, and the preparation just took over,” said Buehler, who had converted kicks from 55 yards in practice. “I canceled the 92,000 fans out. I didn’t notice anything except my holder and the uprights.”

After the ball sailed through the uprights, Buehler noticed a mob of teammates surrounding him.

“Everyone was kind of jumping on my back,” he said. “I went over to Carroll and he smiled and gave me a high-five.”

It was a storybook moment for a player whose last field goal came two years ago as a senior at Anaheim Canyon High.

“I think it was a great moment for us,” Carroll said. “The game was tied after all that happened. We’re OK.”

Buehler was a a safety-tailback-fullback-kicker last season for Santa Ana College, although kickoffs were the extent of his kicking duties. He said the Trojans recruited him after he attended kicking camps over the winter and summer.

But Buehler was a scout-team fullback who didn’t play until USC’s third game against Arizona, and then appeared only on the kickoff and punt return teams. “I’m just trying to help the team as best I can,” Buehler said. “I’ll help out anywhere.”

Buehler said he wasn’t stunned when he heard special teams Coach Sam Anno call his name because Buehler measured the distance and knew Danelo’s longest field goal this season had been 44 yards.

“I know where Mario’s cutoff is, if the ball is on the 30,” Buehler said. “Mario can get like a 45-yarder.... I knew it was in my distance. It was the accuracy I was concerned about.”

Those concerns dissipated the moment the kick left Buehler’s leg. He immediately knew it was good. All the way from 49 yards out.

“Forty-nine and a half,” corrected Buehler.

It’s a distance Buehler will never forget. And now Trojans fans might never forget him.

ben.bolch@latimes.com


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