As you may have heard by now, Torrington reached its second consecutive Class 3A title game by beating Jackson 22-21 on Friday, scoring a touchdown as time ran out before notching the game-winning two-point conversion.
You may have also heard that Jackson supporters were not happy about the way in which the clock was turned on or off in the final few moments of the game — specifically, the final six plays.
Local News 8, the ABC station in Idaho Falls, covered this controversy. Kind of. Unfortunately, the story posted doesn’t match the video of what actually happened. (For example, the story says Torrington never went out of bounds in the final six plays, when Torrington did on its third play of the six; it also notes a fumble “blown dead” that could have happened on the same play, but player and official reactions show that the play was clearly over before the ball came loose.)
So let’s set the record straight.
Well, as straight as we can with gifs.
For this post, I watched the NFHS Network replay of Friday’s game. I timed each play in Torrington’s final drive and compared the announced times on the KGOS/KERM radio broadcast that accompanied the video feed to times I compiled by hand. (The images in this post come from that NFHS Network feed and are used here under fair use journalistic purposes.)
On its final drive, Torrington went 67 yards in 17 plays in 1 minute, 10 seconds. The first 11 plays were pretty standard, with no huge timing problems that I noticed.
The dispute really centers on the final six plays of the game, which Torrington ran in 10.4 seconds without the use of a timeout. (Neither team had any timeouts remaining by this point.) The first two plays were incomplete passes, each running about two seconds off the clock. Let’s take a look at gifs of those two plays.
So far, so good. No controversy. After the first two plays, the announcers from KGOS/KERM radio say the clock is down to 6.3 seconds. I hand-timed these two plays myself and ended up with a similar number of where the clock should be (I had it at 6.0, an acceptable range of difference).
Play 3 is where things start to go a little haywire. On this play, Torrington’s Bryan Lemmon catches a swing pass and is knocked out of bounds. The play takes about 4.6 seconds, according to my stopwatch.
This should put the game clock at about 2.2 seconds remaining. (We don’t know what the clock read at this point, because it’s not announced on the audio feed. However, we can assume the clock read more than 2.2 seconds, based on the play call that follows and the reaction of the players after that play.)
Play 4 in the sequence adds to the questions. On fourth-and-1, Lemmon takes a pitch and plows for three yards, reaching the 2-yard line for a first down. The clock stops at this point to reset the chains. By my watch, this play takes 4.1 seconds.
The clock starts before Play 5 begins. Play 5 is a spike to stop the clock after the chains are set for the first down. And Torrington does so nice and fast — in 0.9 seconds, according to my watch, from the signal to start the clock to when the ball hits the ground. (In this gif, watch the white hat ref on the right side; also watch the umpire stopping the ball from being snapped until the signal is given to go. This follows proper timing rules.)
Play 6 is Lemmon’s 2-yard touchdown. The radio announcers say that, prior to this play, 1.6 seconds remained on the clock. And it doesn’t matter how long this play takes, because (as every player and coach knows) scoring on a play after time has run out is OK as long as the snap happens before the clock runs out.
After this touchdown, Lemmon scored on the 2-point conversion to send Torrington back to the 3A title game.
The five plays prior to the game-winning touchdown took, by my stopwatch, 15.4 seconds. The Torrington clock operator said those same five plays took 8.8 seconds.
Ultimately, Torrington won the game, and Torrington will play for a state championship. As Local News 8’s Max Cohan noted on Twitter (via a screencap of an email Cohan says is from Jackson AD Mike Hansen), the WHSAA isn’t in the habit of overruling game officials.
This email from the Jackson Hole athletic director shows that, despite all the controversy over the end of the November 2nd game between Jackson and Torrington, the ruling is final and can’t be overturned. pic.twitter.com/TeFoagVwm3
— Max Cohan (@MaxCohanTV) November 4, 2018
The WHSAA has rarely intervened in cases like this. In fact, I can find only one instance in which the WHSAA has overruled game officials. That came in 1967 in a game between Basin and Byron. Basin originally won 40-34 by scoring in the final minute of their game on Oct. 27, but Byron protested the game’s final 2 minutes, 24 seconds after claiming the officials mis-applied the rules on a fumble. The WHSAA upheld the protest, and the WHSAA forced the two teams to re-play the final 2:24 three days later. No one scored and the game finished as a 34-34 tie, officially.
The only other high-profile questionable timing incident I know of came even further back than that: the final game of the 1955 season between Laramie and Cheyenne Central. Laramie won 18-14 on its home field to claim the Class AA championship, but Cheyenne filed a protest claiming “timing irregularities” gave Laramie an unfair advantage. Two Cheyenne players also punched and tackled an official after he ejected a Cheyenne player. Although the protest was eventually tossed, the timekeeper that day, Edwin Hitchcock, died just days after the game due to a heart attack.
More recently, the most controversial final-play playoff finish came in a Class 5A semifinal game in 2006. In that game, Natrona kicker Garrett Hill’s field goal attempt on the final play of the game was ruled wide left, despite video showing that the kick may have actually gone between the uprights as it went over the top of the left post. Cheyenne East won that game 5-3. Then as now, the WHSAA delegated that responsibility to the officials on the field and supported the ruling the officials made on the field.
The same standard applies here. If Jackson fans have a beef, it’s with the officials, not with the WHSAA. I daresay the beef isn’t even with the timer, who I don’t want to name here (and couldn’t even if I wanted to, because I haven’t asked and don’t plan to). However, if you think you can do better than the officials, prove it by becoming a WHSAA official. It’s a hard and thankless job, especially when we (you and me) can watch replay after replay and critique tenths of a second of their in-the-moment calls and decisions. I thought hard about whether to even post this, because I think many people will use this post as an excuse to trash the game officials and timer even more. Please don’t be that person.
In the course of a 48-minute game, 6.6 seconds slips off the clock, or stays on the clock, easily. To Torrington’s benefit, and Jackson’s dismay, it just so happened these 6.6 seconds came when they did.