A controversial ending to Friday night's football game between Douglas High School and Damonte Ranch in Minden was upheld by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association on Monday, although the state's athletic board also acknowledged a number of "errors" helped lead Damonte to a 47-46 win.
Damonte Ranch kicked an extra point for the game-winner on the final play of regulation after running back Drew Smith punched in the tying touchdown from 2 yards out on fourth down with no time left on the clock.
At issue were the bizarre events that unfolded just prior to Smith's touchdown run, which appeared to come on a "fifth" down. During the same sequence, time could have expired at least twice and there were scenarios where Damonte could have also turned the ball over on downs, and Douglas could have recovered a fumble. Any of those scenarios would have left Douglas as the 46-40 victor in the game.
"The way it happened, it just ended up that everything went against Douglas in the last minute, right down to Damonte even being allowed to run that last play," NIAA assistant director Jay Beesemeyer said. "At the end of the day, after looking at the video and getting to talk with the officials involved quite a bit, it came down to there was nothing the could officially be protested.
"These officials didn't want to be part of the outcome. You just never know what is going to happen out there, and that's part of what makes officiating what it is. I think they would admit errors were made out there.
"The head referee is a good referee. He is president of their chapter out there. No one works harder than that guy. But sometimes you get caught out there and it's too late to rectify a situation. In this case, there's a snap, the kids are running all over the place and this is what happens."
"It was a big deal. I hate to even call it a learning experience for us because it comes off like a cop out," Beesemeyer said. "It doesn't make anyone feel any better. It's not fair for everyone involved. People want the calls to be right, no matter what level you're at. Our officials just go out there and do the best job they can do."
Douglas was clinging to a 46-40 lead Friday when the Tigers turned the ball over on downs near midfield with just over a minute left in the game.
Damonte worked its way inside the Tiger 10-yard line with no timeouts remaining.
Damonte quarterback Kyle Daugherty spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock. On second down, the Mustangs advanced the ball to the Tiger 2-yard line with the clock running inside of 20 seconds.
That's when things got really interesting.
Damonte struggled getting a play lined up as the clock trickled down inside five seconds. Smith was tackled on the ensuing play for no gain. With no timeouts left, it surely would have been the final play of the game (three seconds remained when Smith was brought down - not nearly enough to re-set the line of scrimmage).
However, the clock was blown dead because the side judge had thrown a flag for a sideline warning on the Douglas sideline.
"That was a break for Damonte," Beesemeyer said. "If the side judge has it to do all over again, you hope he keeps the hanky in the pocket and focuses on the play at hand. But that's not what happened and it helped lead to a Douglas defeat."
The result of the play was a fourth-and-goal from the Douglas two. As the head referee prepared to re-start the clock (video of the play shows his arm winding around just as the ball is snapped), it appeared Daugherty attempted to spike the ball, thus stopping the clock, but fumbled it in the process.
A Douglas defender recovered the ball off the ground as time again expired on the clock. In either case, either by fumble recovery or by turnover on downs, possession would have reverted to the Tigers and the game again would have been over.
This became the most contentious play of Douglas' appeal, as Smith scored on the following play on the apparent "fifth" down.
"What it comes down to is that the referee in this case called that a 'non-play,'" Beesemeyer said. "The ball was not set and Damonte Ranch snapped it prematurely. The ball was not properly marked ready for play, so none of what happened there counted.
"There also should have been a penalty against Damonte Ranch there for delay of game because of the premature snap. The official felt like he put them in that situation though, that it was his fault he even allowed the ball to be snapped. That's where a lot of the confusion came from."
The ball was re-spotted and 2.8 seconds were added back to the clock, after which Smith rumbled in for the touchdown, fumbling before breaking the plane of the end zone, but scrambling forward to pounce on it for six points.
Douglas initially contacted the NIAA after the game with video of all five plays. The National Federation of High School athletics has within its rulebook that the outcome of a football game cannot be overturned once officials have left the area of play.
That's not something Beesemeyer said he was necessarily ready to comply with in this case.
"When I heard 'fifth down' early in the weekend, that caught my attention," he said. "Once we determined that fourth snap had been ruled on the field as a non-play, that's a judgment call. There's nothing we can do about that.
"It's just really unfortunate for Douglas, how this played out. They didn't catch a break that whole time. Every enforcement of what the officials did went against them. They are in a situation now where there are five teams that could make the playoffs in their league and one of them will get left out. Douglas is in a very tough spot.
"There are three or four things that happened there that will pay dividends in the future, in terms of being able to learn from it and get better as officials. Unfortunately, that doesn't do Douglas any good right now."
Beesemeyer said there would not be sanctions for the officials involved in the game.
"The officials will do their best," he said. "They'll have good games and bad games. Our referee Friday night said we did well for the first 47 and a half minutes. The last 30 seconds, we weren't very good. Unfortunately, that is the part that gets noticed."
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