by Rob Joyce
The most thrilling finish of Week 2 of the college football season was undoubtedly in Stillwater, where Oklahoma State was taking on Central Michigan. On fourth down in the final seconds the Cowboys, up 27-24, chose to take an intentional grounding penalty as time expired. With the loss of down, Central Michigan was awarded one untimed down, in which they used a wild Hail Mary and lateral to score the game-winning touchdown. Only there was one problem – the play never should have happened.
It became quickly apparent that the rulebook was misinterpreted, and CMU never should have been given a chance to win the game. The officiating crew from Saturday’s game has since been suspended for two weeks as a result of botching the end-of-game sequence.
Though it’s an egregious error, and it’s an especially difficult pill to swallow for Oklahoma State and Big 12 fans, a Week 2 game in early September doesn’t quite make the blown call one of the five worst in history. Here are those calls:
5) Duke vs. Miami (FL), 10/31/15:
Halloween was certainly a scary night for the Blue Devils, who on a kickoff in the final seconds allowed the Hurricanes to execute and eight-lateral return for a touchdown for the win. Only there were a few problems: for one, a Miami player’s knee was down before he lateraled it around the 25-yard line. Secondly, there was a missed illegal block in the back on the ‘Canes. Lastly, in celebration a Miami player left the sideline before the play was over. In short, there was a pile of miscues that all had the same conclusion – a Duke win that was stolen.
4) LSU vs. Auburn, 9/16/06:
LSU needed to convert a 4th-and-6 late in the game as they trailed 7-3. JaMarcus Russell’s pass to Early Doucet fell incomplete, but a flag was thrown for pass interference, in theory giving the Tigers an automatic first down.
However, the flag was picked up after the announcement was made, after it was ruled that the ball was tipped before Doucet was touched, thus making it legal contact. A video review, though, showed that wasn’t the case – the penalty shouldn’t have been nullified and LSU should have been awarded a first down. Instead, Auburn won and LSU wound up missing the SEC Championship and a potential shot at a national title by one game.
3) Nebraska vs. Penn State, 9/25/82:
The Nittany Lions needed a touchdown in the final minute to take the lead on the Huskers. After converting on a fourth down to keep the game alive, wide receiver Mike McCloskey caught a pass at the Nebraska two-yard line with nine seconds left. Although video shows McCloskey didn’t get one foot inbounds, it was ruled a catch and a play later the Nittany Lions scored what became the winning touchdown. The wideout admitted a few decades later that he was indeed out of bounds, but that won’t help Huskers fans any, as they finished 12-1 on the year and didn’t win a national title.
2) Miami (FL) vs. Ohio State, 1/3/03:
The Hurricanes were looking at securing their place in college football lore as a dynasty. With the Buckeyes facing fourth-and-3 from the five-yard line in overtime, Miami was one play away from history. They appeared to make said play, as Craig Krenzel’s pass hit Chris Gamble’s hands before falling incomplete. However, a very late flag was thrown for pass interference, despite video evidence showing it was a questionable call at best, and an abhorrent one at worst. Ohio State was awarded a first down, they’d score and ultimately win in double overtime.
1) Colorado vs. Missouri, 10/6/90:
The Buffaloes, who would later in the year crowned co-national champions, wouldn’t have been able to celebrate in January had they not been handed a second chance against the Tigers. Colorado trailed by four in the final minute when tight end Jon Boman caught a pass and slipped at the one-yard line. It gave the Buffs a first down.
On first down they spiked the ball to stop the clock, setting up second down. However, because of the frenetic late-game pace, the chain marker never adjusted, and on second down it indicated that the play was still first down. That created mass confusion, as later in the sequence Colorado spiked the ball to stop the clock on what the chains said was third down, but in reality was fourth down, thus the drive should have ended on the blunder. Instead, the Buffs were awarded a “phantom fifth down” on accident, where they scored. The referees realized their error, but debated for 20 minutes what to do. They announced the touchdown would count, Colorado took a knee on the extra point so as not to create a chance for Missouri to block it, and the Buffs stole a 33-31 win in what is now dubbed “The Fifth Down Game”.