Grossmont loses 14-21 after penalty thwarts come-from-behind drive against El Camino

Referee Larry Diel, gesturing, explains to Coach Mike Jordan why he penalized the onside kick (Photo: William Dudley)

By William Dudley

William Dudley

GROSSMONT COLLEGE, Sept. 11—The answer is Rule 6, Section 4, Article 1 (and 1A) of the junior college football rulebook

The question:  What football rule was cited in a controversial decision by a referee in Grossmont’s second home game that stopped a Grossmont comeback and preserved El Camino’s tough-fought 21-14 victory?

It had come down to this: with less than two minutes remaining, the Grossmont Griffins had just scored a touchdown to cut El Camino’s lead in half.  The teams lined up for the ensuing kickoff that just about everyone expected would be an onside kick.

Kicker Conner Derby approached the ball and punched a perfect “pooch” kick that tantalizingly floated towards the Grossmont sideline.  Wide receiver Roland Brooks ran under the ball, leaped in the air, cradled the pigskin, landed on the field, and tumbled out of bounds. The fans and players erupted in celebration for the perfectly executed special-teams play that gave the Griffins one last chance to maybe score another touchdown and…

Uh-oh, wait a minute. Referees were conferring on the field.  One by one they joined, until they all were I the huddle, surrounded by Grossmont players, El Camino players, Coach Mike Jordan.

While the refs are talking-and talking-let’s recap the game thus far.

Grossmont scored first, taking the lead on a one-yard run by running back Derrin Alix.  The touchdown drive was set up when linebacker Pat Kelly intercepted a pass by El Camino quarterback Dex Lucci.

Things were looking pretty good for the home team for most of the first half. The Grossmont offense was making plays and first downs, mostly through the passing game. The defense was containing El Camino, especially on third-down conversions.

However, the Griffins were unable to score again as the game proceeded. Some promising drives were cut short by turnovers. Some were slowed by penalties. Some faltered on plays in which quarterback Ryan Woods was sacked or pressured.  Two drives ended with missed field goal kicks by Derby (one miss had been partially blocked).

El Camino ball carrier (middle) is pulled down by his shirt in action against Grossmont (Photo: William Dudley)

Meanwhile, the El Camino offense began to click after Omar Herrera replaced Lucci as Camino’s quarterback.  They ultimately scored three touchdowns on three big plays.

Big Play One: With less than two minutes left in the first half, Herrera drops back to pass.  He has lots of time, no one to throw to – but notices the right half of the field is virtually deserted. He takes off and scores on a 22-yard run.

Big Play Two: Early in the third quarter, Herrera dumps a short sideline pass to fullback Raynard Westbrook.  The 5’9, 225-pound sophomore has a distinctive physical profile that inspired some fans I heard to call him “Bowling Ball,” and on this play he was able to roll down the sidelines like a bowling ball on the edge of the gutter but never falling in.  Result: 80-yard touchdown strike and an El Camino lead.

Grossmont assistant coach Garrett Robinson later said that the Griffins were playing a man-to-man pass defense on that play, and the linebacker assigned to cover Westbrook was unable to get by other Camino receivers in his way.  It was somewhat like a pick play in basketball.

Big Play Three: Later in the third quarter, Herrera completes a medium-short pass down the middle to receiver Ronald Gaudin, who then stops, pivots, reverses direction, and runs in for a 47-yard play and Camino’s third score.

Momentum was not in Grossmont’s favor. As the Griffin offense took the field for the next series, Coach Robinson was addressing his defense. “This is not a seven-oh-seven game anymore,” he spoke with great intensity.  “You have to … you have to … YOU HAVE TO .. get us a turnover!!”

And as if right on cue, Woods took the center snap and … fumbled the ball.  Camio recovered deep in Grossmont territory.

Coach Robinson told me after the game that one of the things they try to teach the players is how to deal with setbacks and adversity, because players will face both in almost every game.  How they respond defines and develops what kind of character a player and a team will have.

The Grossmont defense took the field, stuffed the Camino offense on three plays and blocked Camino’s field goal attempt.

The offense’s turn to rise above adversity came a few series later. Deep in Grossmont territory, Woods got hit in the arm just as he threw the ball and was holding his arm gingerly after the incomplete pass. But then, using a no-huddle offense, he led the team down the field, completed a 32-yeard catch-and-run (and stumble) to Tommy Alexander, then lfted a rainbow to the back corner of the end zone.  6’3 receiver Alex McLeland, fighting against two sore legs, jumped high to catch the ball for a touchdown.  Something they practice every week, he later tells me. 

So, with the score 14-21, Grossmont tried the onside kick that Brooks caught in spectactular fashion, and then everyone was left waiting for the huddled referees to decide.

They threw the yellow flag.

Much to Mike Jordan’s consternation.

Grossmont’s onside receovery was overturned. El Camino ran four plays, and the game was over.

Post-game reactions, and what was that call anyways?

Responding to a clarification request, lead referee Larry Deil referred to the aforementioned Rule 6, Section 4, Article 1 of his football rulebook. This noted that on plays in which the ball is kicked, the receiving team “must be given an unimpeded opportunity” to catch the ball. Diel also referred to subsection 1A that said this rule did not apply after the kick has touched the ground.

Derby’s kick did not have to bounce off the ground to quality as a legitimate onside kick as long as it traveled at least ten yards, which it did.  But since it never hit the ground, Grossmont players did have some restriction on what they could do against Camino players, regardless of whether any person on the Camino team called for a fair catch or not.  No one did o this play.

Diel confirmed that it was Brooks who was called for the penalty of impeding the opportunity of Camino players to catch the ball.  All this reporter remembers seeing, without benefit of replay, was Brooks jumping up to catch the ball. Whether that constitutes an unlawful impedance under Rule 6, Article 4, Section 1 is, as Coach Robinson said after the game, a matter of “rule interpretation.”

While much of the chatter after the game was about the onside kick call, McLeland said that the Griffins should not have been in such a position, having squandered several red zone opportunities.  Coach Robinson expressed pride at his team’s character and response to adversity on both sides of the ball.  “We always support our offense.”  He also noted that football has a long season and that it was better to have “valleys now and peaks later.”  Athletic Director Jim Spillers called this a “great game” and forecast a possible rematch with El Camino in the playoffs.

Notes from the sidelines:

At halftime, Spillers was asked by the PA announcer to stand at the 50-yard line.  The announcer then informed everyone that it was Spillers’ birthday and led the crowd in a “Happy Birthday” rendition.  (Nevertheless, it must be somewhat of a bummer to have your birthday fall on September 11.)

The weather was much less hot and more pleasant than last week’s game against San Diego Mesa. That didn’t stop one of the El Camino fans who had driven down from Long Beach from complaining about the heat.

Running back Justin Salum was treated for a sore leg during the game. Offensive lineman Erik Krebs was taken out of the game and diagnosed with a concussion; he expressed hope to be cleared to play next week.

I am not a football scout but linebacker Derek Holsapple seemed to be making big plays on a regular basis.

Catch of the game not overruled by refs: Receiver Tommy Alexander on Grossmont’s first drive of the second half with his leaping catch over a defender.

Hit of the game: Ryan Woods for his last-ditch carefully-timed-and-executed takedown of El Camino’s 300-pound defensive lineman Julian Camper. The bad part of this reward is that it stemmed from Camper’s interception of Woods’ pass.

Run of the game: This category is temporary closed until Grossmont gets its ground attack in gear.

Next game: Saturday at Southwestern Community College.

*
Dudley is a student in Media Communications 132, the class that publishes the online GC Summit.

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