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Was It a Touchdown? You Make the Call

Tamaqua’s historic run through the state football playoffs came to an end last night.

The Blue Raiders were shut out against Wyoming Area in the PIAA Class 3A semifinal, 21-0, at Wyoming Valley West High School.

Controversial Touchdown Call – Pass Ruled Incomplete

In hindsight, this call may not have been the difference-maker it seemed to be at the time, but a controversial call denying Tamaqua a touchdown has everyone talking.

On a play late in the third quarter, and Tamaqua already down 21-0, the Raiders appear to get on the scoreboard. Quarterback Brayden Knoblauch hits receiver Cody Hamm with a pass in the end zone.

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Here’s how Brian Ptashinski (@BTashinsky) saw it from his end zone perspective:

The receiver appears to make a breadbasket catch, two hands around the ball for a split second.

We created a GIF of this great Twitter user’s video so it loops non-stop and eventually drives you mad:

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Then, the ball comes out. As the receiver brings the ball in to his chest while falling to the ground, it leaves his hands for a blink. Here’s the moment we think it leaves his hand:

You can see daylight between the ball and the receiver’s hands there.

But the receiver grabs it again, holding it for another split second. Now, it does look like he’s got one hand firmly on the ball and the other seems to be holding it against that firm hand. The fingers on his supporting hand do move a little and the ball isn’t completely steady but it doesn’t really spin, indicating that he didn’t have control of the ball.

And you’ll see in the really loopy GIF below that he comes down in bounds while he’s got control, even for a split second:

The referee on the scene quickly calls the pass incomplete. His call baffled Tamaqua players on the field and riled up the local fans in the stands.

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What’s a Catch?

The National Federation of State High School Associations provides some insight on determining if this is a Tamaqua touchdown or if the ref got it right.

Here’s how they spell out Rule 2 on what’s a catch and possession in relation to a passed ball:

A catch is the act of establishing possession of the ball in flight and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession. A ball in player “Possession” is a live ball held or controlled by a player after he has caught it. In order for a catch to be completed, the player must establish that he has possession. Possession of the ball is determined by the player’s ability to hold and control the ball … after he has caught it. This implies that there is some period of time between the catch and when possession has been established and two specific actions – catch and possession. The completion of the catch is based on the player’s ability to show that he has possession of the ball and possession is based on his ability to control it.

So, basically, did the receiver ever have possession in the first place? Or is this a ball that’s squirming around until the receiver stands up out of bounds?

What’s the rule on a catch in the end zone? If a running back only has to reach the ball over the plane of the goal line, does a receiver only need to control a forward pass for a split second in the end zone for it to be a touchdown?

This is where the rules give the ref on the scene some discretion. On this play, if the ref had determined the Tamaqua receiver held the ball long enough initially, it would have been ruled a touchdown. Obviously, the ref didn’t believe the Tamaqua receiver had possession.

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The problem here is that the ball came out in the process of going to ground. And the ball wasn’t firm in his hands as he regained control on the ground in-bounds.

What’s Your Call?

Tell us how you’d call the play. It’s a tough call that really could go either way and relies heavily on a ref’s gut instinct.

Keep in mind, before you go bashing the referee on this play, that he had a split second to make a call. He didn’t have the benefit of looping GIFs and video review.

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(Hat tip to Twitter user @BPtashinski for tagging @HardCoalCanary with updates from big high school football games throughout the 2019 season!)

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