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Posted: September 6, 2011 3:56 p.m.

No play? No way

The "no-play" rule could fix questionable calls in close games

At some point, someone has to be held accountable for officiating mistakes in high school games. It's gone on too long. Each year, whether it's baseball, basketball, softball or football, amateur referees tasked to officiate high school games in Georgia continue to make mistakes but won't own up to them. Something has to give.

Newton's win over Eastside Friday was overshadowed by several questionable calls down the stretch and it's a shame because it was a great game for 46 minutes. Unfortunately the last two left a cloud hanging over Sharp Stadium.

During Newton's decisive scoring drive, the officials made two calls that wound up giving the Rams the ball back. The first was a strip/fumble recovered by Eastside and the second was a pass interference penalty after an Eagle interception. After the second one, Newton scored.

The Rams did what they were supposed to, take advantage of the opportunity. The question is should they have had that opportunity in the first place? Looking at the game film, it's tough to say. In the instance of the fumble, it's really too close to call. The video isn't conclusive so it's fair to say the call on the field was fine. As far as the interference call on the interception, well that's a different story.

The video shows the Eastside defender jam the Newton receiver at the line and almost on cue, Ram quarterback Gmatreian Brown throws a pass right into the chest of Eagle defensive back Jamal Hardge. Defenders are allowed to check a receiver at the line. The film shows that's what happened. Newton's Deshawn McKenzie shakes free but it's after Brown's pass is in the air. The official threw the flag and the only explanation can be, he was surprised by the quick pass that was so far away from the receiver that he felt like the reason for it had to be pass interference.

Making such calls is never easy. Even the call in question isn't easy to make at game speed. If you were at Friday's game though, the problem everyone saw was the officials lost control of the game at the end. When that happens, tough calls like the one in question tend to happen even more.

Another problem is officiating should be consistent from the beginning of the game. You really see it in basketball. Officials don't set the tone early and that's when fights break out. In Friday's game, the officials hadn't made that call all night. They waited until the last play of the decisive drive to make it. That can happen. You are asking a team to make a game-saving play twice. The same thing can be said about the illegal procedure call the officials made on the game's final play. They threw a flag for band music. The problem is the flag should have been thrown two possessions earlier when the band really was playing music during Eastside's possession. Instead they threw a make up call and it took away Newton's game-ending interception. The Rams had to hold on again after the penalty call gave Eastside another crack at a Hail Mary. Only after the ball slipped through Eastside receiver Lance Davis' hands could Newton players and coaches celebrate.

Since the Georgia High School Association won't ever do anything about this, I have a solution. Give each team a "no play". Used the same way NFL teams use challenges, each coach would throw his no-play flag on the field and that play would be wiped away forever and the down would be replayed. It could be used on any play. And, if the opposing coach hasn't used theirs yet, they can use it on the same play and effectively cancel out the first coach's no-play. Sound crazy? Let's see how it would have played out Friday?

There were two plays before the final two minutes coaches may have used their no-plays. Newton fumbled on a backward pass pretty deep in Eastside territory in the first half and may have used it there to negate the turnover. Eastside coach Rick Hurst may or may not have used his to cancel it out. On Eastside's first play from scrimmage in the second half, the Eagles fumbled. Chances are good if Hurst had his no-play still, he would have used it there. Conversely Newton coach Cortez Allen would have probably negated Hurst's with is.

Let's say for a minute neither coach used theirs until the last two minutes. Eastside's first opportunity would have been on Newton's blocked punt. A no-play there would have given the Eagles another chance at punting the ball. Knowing Hurst, he probably would have used it there but he may have saved it for the end knowing Newton was going to get another shot at scoring. After all, Eastside still led 3-2.

Newton may have used the no-play on Eastside's field goal that gave them the 3-0 lead. It was a tight game and at that point, 3-0 looked pretty good. If Allen chose to hold it, he could have saved it for later when he may have needed it to try a field goal twice or get two plays on a fourth down. That's where the strategy comes in.

If both coaches had their no-play left during the last drive, Eastside would have certainly used it on Newton's touchdown. Allen would have countered by using his and the game would have ended the same way. But chances are, both or one coach would have kept their no-play and that could have changed things. If the interception had stood and Newton didn't have its no-play, the Rams would have lost. It would have also made the official's call a moot point.

The no-play would bring a new strategic twist to games. When do teams use it? Do they save it? In a blowout, it doesn't matter. But in a tight game, think about what the no-play could mean. The bottom line is no team should be penalized by a bad call. It's one thing to make a mistake. But when you make a mistake, own up to it and don't let it happen again. Are you listening GHSA? Of course, if you go with the no-play plan, you've evened the playing field for both teams and given the officials a pass. Everyone comes out ahead. Imagine that. And that's why the GHSA would never consider it.

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