FLAG SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN REF'S POCKETBy Scott Barboza
Boston Cathedral quarterback Matt Owens has gone from talented high school athlete to blowing up "SportsCenter" in a matter of days. Unfortunately, the Panthers senior won't be remembered around Boston for delivering the program's first Super Bowl title with a dramatic fourth-quarter run.
Instead, Owens will be a historical footnote to the national media sensation surrounding the infamous "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty called during Saturday's game.
He had every right to celebrate; those kinds of plays don't happen often. He was doing what many rational folks would say was only natural, given the circumstances. As Owens' father told the Boston Herald on Tuesday, "There was nothing dishonorable about the play."
Owens was living in the moment.
The same cannot be said for the official who threw that dreaded flag.
Let's get this straight: Referees have a tough job -- a downright unenviable job. In my interactions with football referees at all levels (from high school to the NFL), I've found them to be thorough and mindful of their place in the game. Their knowledge of the game is extensive. Hey, how many among us could actually remember the MIAA/NCAA rulebook chapter and verse? I could barely scrape by on the periodic table in chemistry class.
In the case of Owens' run, maybe the appropriate call was made on the field. But it wasn't the right call.
For as much as a referees' job is to apply the rules to the game they're witnessing in real time, there's an element of judgment involved in what they do. Many football penalties are subjective by nature. What is a clear-cut case of pass interference to one person might not be to others. There are succinct guidelines in the rulebook laying out what constitutes pass interference, but how referees interpret those rules on a play-by-play basis in a real world environment is another matter.
Ultimately, the choice to penalize or not lies in the hands of the beholder, not in some book on a shelf.
What I see when I watch the video clip of Owens racing to the end zone is an excited kid. He's not a haughty kid. He's not disrespecting his opponents. He's not making a show of himself.
It's not conduct unbecoming of a sportsman.
Even though that's what the rule says -- in a strict constructionist, or literal sense of the word -- there's still the matter of application.
And that's where judgment comes in. Judgment, by itself, is a hazy thing. Cut the corner too sharply and you run into the back of your offensive line, too loose and you get eaten up by a linebacker.
In the case of Matt Owens, he was doing what was natural.
There was no need to throw him for a loss.
BY THE RULE, REF MADE THE RIGHT CALLBy Brendan Hall
With mayor Thomas Menino chiming in on the controversy surrounding Saturday's Eastern Mass Division 4A Super Bowl, I have calls out to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Leominster mayor Dean Mazzarella to see if they want to get in on the action too.
Politicians aside, this is about what happened on the field. Football teams with membership in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Association abide by the NCAA's rules. Article 1, section (d) of the ruling on unsportsmanlike conduct identifies "any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)." By that ruling, shrewd is it may have been interpreted, what happened Saturday in the Division 4A Super Bowl between Boston Cathedral High School and Blue Hills Regional Technical School is still technically a violation of the rules on excessive celebration.
One of the things sparking this nationwide debate is the timing of the flag being thrown. But there needs to be some perspective on this. There were around six minutes left in the game when Owens was called for the unsportsmanlike penalty, and the ball was placed at the 24-yard line of Blue Hills. So while the flag cost his team a go-ahead TD, there was still plenty of time to score (and also plenty of time for Blue Hills to get the ball back). But Owens threw an interception on the next play.
I think back to the first week of September 2008, when University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker was flagged for excessive celebration on a potential game-winning touchdown run against BYU with three seconds left. Locker plunged into the end zone, jumped up and threw the ball high into the air before celebrating with his teammates. The ball toss brought the 15-yard flag, backing up the extra point, which was blocked.
Instead of the great play by BYU to win the game, the ruling on Locker's celebration became the big story.
Just as the Huskies had a golden chance to even the score in that fateful game, so too did the Cathedral Panthers even after the flag was thrown. These guys aren't slouches. Running back Geeavontie Griffith ran for 2,244 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, and was named to our All-State Team earlier this week. Pint-sized athlete Carlos Bermudez, the point guard for a basketball team two years removed from a state final appearance, brought the Panthers to the Super Bowl with this electric game-ending punt return for a touchdown five days prior.
Head coach Duane Sigsbury, one of the most respected football minds in the state, has done a remarkable job in his first year with the program, turning a five-win team into a 12-1 power. He, like many others, wishes the ruling had come out differently. But knowing Duane as well as I do, he is going to keep on chugging on and churning out talented football players like the ones he's coached at Woburn, Reading and now Cathedral.
Everyone should be proud of what this team has accomplished so rapidly in such a short amount of time, and we also need to give Blue Hills credit for making all the necessary stops to close out the game and bring home a hard-earned Super Bowl title.
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