Bad call might mean replaying final minute of game
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) It was the final minute of the state quarterfinal when Douglass High School appeared to score the winning touchdown on a fourth-down play.
But the jubilation was short-lived as players watched the score get wiped out when officials improperly enforced a penalty. Tiny Locust Grove won 20-19, and now everyone from state lawmakers to legendary former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer called for an extraordinary remedy: replaying the final minute of the game, from the point of the touchdown.
The fate of both teams, for now, was decided Wednesday in a board room where athletic officials reviewed the case, which pitted a powerhouse Oklahoma City athletic program against a small town of 1,400 and touches on issues of race and class. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association voted 8-3 against Douglass after confronting the difficulty of righting a wrong in a high-stakes sporting events, even when almost everybody agrees that major mistakes were made.
Douglass isn't done fighting. Brandon Carey, general counsel for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said the district would most likely file an injunction in Oklahoma County District Court on Thursday to stop the certification of the results and the playing of Locust Grove's semifinal game against Heritage Hall, scheduled for Friday.
Adding to the controversy was the nature of the penalty - an infraction involving a coach and a ball boy running down the sideline that did not involve any of the players on the field.
''Those kids made a lot of sacrifice to work toward this goal,'' Switzer said. ''They spent months, hours of training, conditioning on both sides. Let the play on the field determine who won the ballgame. That's the tragedy of the whole thing.''
The story began last Friday when Douglass took the lead with 1:04 remaining in the Class 3A playoff game. A flag was thrown, but the penalty was improperly enforced, taking the potential game-winning touchdown off the board.
The penalty, the second sideline infraction against the Trojans, should have been enforced on the extra point or the kickoff instead of wiping out the long touchdown pass and marking off the penalty yardage from the previous spot.
The activities association punished the officials involved, calling the error ''inexcusable at this level'' and acknowledging that the results were ''extremely unfortunate for the players, coaches, and fans involved.''
The mistake was ''compounded by the fact that it occurred in a playoff-elimination game,'' Mike Whaley, the agency's director of officials, said in a news release.
The crew will be reprimanded and has been removed from consideration for further playoff games.
But the activities association rejected Douglass' initial request to replay the last part of the game because it does not allow protests based on decisions made by officials. Wednesday's special meeting upheld that ruling.
Switzer said the situation is unfair to all parties except the officials.
''I've never heard of anything like that,'' he said.
Still, Douglass believed it deserved a chance to take Locust Grove's spot. Switzer wondered if the appeal process might be different if the call had gone against Heritage Hall or Bishop McGuinness, two private schools in Oklahoma City.
Dr. K. Gerone Free, pastor of Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church, said Douglass and other predominantly minority schools in the city have been targeted by referees for years.
''Why should the kids do the right thing when the adults who have the ability to do the right thing continue for years to do what is oppressive to young athletes in this city?'' he asked. ''We come wanting justice. They know what is right. Just by punishing those referees, it does not help those student athletes at Douglass High School.''
The issue also entered the political realm, attracting the attention of state legislators. State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat, said the OSSAA board should have given Douglass a chance.
A replay would have allowed ''the outcome to be decided by student athletes and not the officiants of the game,'' she said. The activities association ''has admitted the adults in this situation made a mistake, and the Douglass student-athletes should not be the one to pay the price for it.''
Switzer said the mess was not ''anything any players or either coaching staff had anything to do with. It was the fact that the five officials did not know the rule.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP