Referees and umpires at any level of sports have a tough job. They make calls in a split second that can impact the games we watch. Usually, they’re right, and we rarely give them credit for that. But when they’re wrong, they’re usually really wrong, and those are the ones we remember.
Friday afternoon, a Georgia high school football referee made a call no one will ever forget. He was wrong, dead wrong, and football fans in Fort Valley will have nightmares for years about this one decision.
Peach County was driving on Calhoun with 3:40 left in the state championship game. The Trojans were down by four. It was fourth-and-8 from the Calhoun 22. Peach County quarterback Antonio Gilbert hit Noah Whittington with a catch on the six-yard line. Whittington then dove for the end zone and appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown.
The side judge saw it differently. For some reason, the referee ruled the play an incomplete pass. Video replay and pictures show Whittington had complete control of the ball. He crossed the goal line, broke the plain and then the ball came loose. But it was a touchdown, pure and simple.
The referee didn’t ask for help. The crew didn’t huddle up to make sure they had gotten it right. They just went on and Calhoun got possession and made the next play.
Peach County coach Chad Campbell went ballistic, and rightfully so. He pointed up to the Mercedes-Benz halo board to the replay, but there was nothing Campbell could do. The official made his call. End of story.
And the Trojans would lose by four points.
I spoke with a couple of football officials Friday night who had seen the play on television. They said it was a catch. No one, unless you possibly are from Calhoun, believes it was the right call. The referee just got it wrong.
Maybe they would have ruled it a touchdown and Calhoun would have driven back down the field to either tie or win the game. Maybe Peach County would have lost in overtime. But the Peach County defense had held Calhoun to three offensive points all day, so chances are if the play had been ruled a touchdown, Peach County would be state champions.
Look, we’re all human. We all make mistakes every single day. But this was a bad call, an egregious mistake. This cost the players on the Peach County team a state championship.
Another official didn’t see the play from a different angle and believe the side judge had made a mistake? The referees couldn’t have gotten together to make sure, in such a crucial time in a championship game, they made the right call?
Well, they could have, but they didn’t. They messed up.
There is no replay in high school football. But when there are championship games being played in a venue like the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with tremendous video technology, there is no excuse to not have it. The Georgia High School Association, in response to this outrageous call, should petition the National Federation of State High Schools Association to have instant replay in championship games to avoid these mistakes.
Campbell and Peach County principal Ken Hartley will appeal to the GHSA Board of Trustees, which set a precedent last May when they overturned an incorrect call in a high school baseball game. So, they’ll at least listen and see the evidence of how Peach County was wronged.
Should they give Peach County the touchdown and play the remaining three minutes of the game to give Calhoun a chance? Yes, the board should. Will it happen? Well, it’s worth it to the kids at Peach County to at least make the case.
This was a horrible call. Changes are made to procedures after errors of this magnitude. We’ll always feel those kids from Peach County are champions, but it certainly would be nice if the GHSA got it right and fixed this big mistake.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.