A thrilling high school football playoff game this past Saturday between Everett and host Central Catholic ended with Everett heading home and Central marching back to the Division 1 North sectional final.
Central Catholic won in overtime, 39-37, but a critical officiating error in the third quarter affected the outcome, prompting questions about whether the MIAA needs to consider administrative changes to the tournament format.
Top-seeded Central Catholic was driving at the Everett 37-yard line in a 24-24 game when it appeared the officials and the chain crew (marking down and distance) gave Central an extra down.
Central picked up 6 yards on a first-down run, followed by a 9-yard rush on second down. But the second-down play was called back because of an offensive holding penalty near the line of scrimmage, which is a spot foul under national federation rules.
That made it second and 13.
After a delay because of an injury, the Raiders threw an incompletion. However, before the play, the officials had ordered the down marker to be set back to first down, perhaps because they thought the penalty had occurred far enough beyond the line.
The Raiders then ran for 2 yards on what was third down — but with the marker showing second down.
The marker was switched to read “3” right after the snap, but the Central sideline protested after the play that it was only now third down. The officials instructed the chain crew that it was indeed third down, and Central ran a pass play for a 3-yard gain as time expired in the third quarter.
Everett coaches said they tried to notify officials of the mistake while the teams switched ends for the fourth quarter. But they said they were warned about being assessed a personal foul or being ejected if they continued to argue.
On what was listed as fourth and 8 — but was actually the fifth down — the Raiders executed a fake punt for 9 yards. On the following play, Central scored on a 26-yard pass for a 31-24 lead.
The sequence of plays went like this:
■ 1-10 at Everett 37: 6-yard run
■ 2-4 at 31: 9-yard run negated by offensive holding penalty (minus-10 yards from spot of foul, which occurred at the 30)
■ 2-13 at 40: Incomplete pass
■ 3-13 at 40: 2-yard run
■ 3-11 at 38: 3-yard pass
■ 4-8 at 35: 9-yard fake-punt pass play
■ 1-10 at 26: 26-yard touchdown pass
“I’m sick to my stomach,” said Everett coach Theluxon Pierre. “How do you make that mistake? You have five refs out there.
“This is ridiculous. You don’t do that to kids.”
Everett rallied to tie the score and force overtime. In OT, Central scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to go ahead by 8. Everett then scored a touchdown, but quarterback Duke Doherty was ruled just short of the goal line on an extremely close 2-point attempt, adding further controversy.
According to MIAA North tournament director Barry Haley, there is no recourse to change the result or replay a state tournament game.
So, what could be done to prevent a similar situation?
The MIAA can consider implementing the use of instant replay in postseason contests.
The responsibilities of the extra official running the scoreboard could increase to communicate with the on-field crew if there is a glaring mistake.
“That’s certainly something to think about,” said Brian Doherty, president of the Association of New England Football Officials.
“You have that in college, where an official in the booth can fix a catastrophic mistake. But we don’t have that ability [in high school] right now. It’s disheartening . . . but nobody feels worse than the officials that were in that game.”
The MIAA also could reconsider the process of assigning officials for tournament games.
Under the current format, the home team is responsible for selecting an officiating crew from its league until the sectional final, when officials from the home and away programs’ leagues are brought in to work together. The chain crew is not required to be made up of officials until the state semifinals, although in this sectional semifinal, the Merrimack Valley Conference assigned officials to work the chains.
MVC assignor Bob O’Real confirmed that he selected the officials for the game, but declined further comment. Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos also declined comment.
“It’s a subjective decision-making, and you trust those guys who assign games all year,” Haley said.
“We’ve been doing this for years and it seems to work. They’re human beings, and they made a mistake.”
According to Jim O’Leary, chairman of the MIAA football committee, any changes will be discussed only if a formal appeal is brought to the committee.
The football committee is not scheduled to meet again until March 3. Any modifications would then have to be approved by the tournament management committee as well.
“People make mistakes, so you live with it,” said O’Leary. “But that doesn’t mean in the future you can’t discuss changes. All things have to be discussed as we move forward.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org