One of the nicest scenes over the weekend from two three-hour games that failed to live up to expectations took place Saturday afternoon at Cardinal Stadium. It didn’t involve Greenwich or Darien, the two teams on the field, but behind the fence near the visiting stands. Trinity Catholic quarterback Anthony Lombardi was hanging out with several Norwalk players.
There was amicable discussion and teasing about a play that took place 30 hours earlier and may end up being the most controversial one of the season.
I feel like no introduction is necessary, but in case you were out of town: Trinity Catholic receiver Johnny Somers made a leaping touchdown catch between three defenders on a 4th and 4 play from Norwalk’s 15-yard line with 1:22 remaining for a dramatic 22-20 victory.
As you can see on the video below, Somers comes down with the ball, his back turns to the camera for a moment, and then you can see him bobble and lose control of it. The official on the play first signaled a touchdown, then quickly lowered his arms and called it an incompletion. A back judge near the goal line came running over, the officiating crew met and then the play was called a touchdown.
Norwalk coach Sean Ireland went rushing on to the field to argue, was assessed a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties and ejected. One Norwalk assistant coach had to be separated from an official by Doug Marchetti, the school’s athletic director, and there was some unruly fan behavior.
The officiating crew as a group, as we will get to momentarily, had a horrible night, and that contributed to the tensions created by the call. Every game is important, but this was the second biggest one of the week and had far-reaching implications. A loss would have put Trinity at 0-2 and at the least would have removed all margin for error in its run for a state playoff berth. A win would have put the Bears at 2-0, and it needs to stockpile them with a big pothole of consecutive games against New Canaan and Greenwich still to come.
I had not walked out of the parking lot after arriving in Greenwich Saturday when three people asked the same two questions: “What happened last night?” and “Was it a touchdown?” Those inquiries increased as I entered the field.
There were so many storylines to address, but let’s get to the latter and most important question first.
Was it a touchdown? I prefer to watch games from the field, but I was in the pressbox, which is on the same side of the field that the play happened. Live, I saw the play the same as the official on the spot: first I thought Somers had the ball and then I thought he bobbled it and it was incomplete.
I’ve watched the video about 20-30 times, and my answer is I honestly don’t know. If you forced me to make a decision, I would say the pass was incomplete. Somers catches the ball and starts to bring it into his body, at which point he turns away from the camera for an instant. Does he have possession? If so it is a touchdown. This isn’t the NFL, where you have to complete “a football play.”
When you next see the ball, Somers loses control as his arms come up. Was he bobbling the ball the entire time? Trying to raise his arms to signal a score, causing him to juggle the ball? There is no clear angle.
The Norwalk Hour’s John Nash captured two photos, one frame where Somers clearly has the ball and then less than a second after where you can’t tell if he maintains possession.
I initially was certain the ball was incomplete, but after listening to others and watching the play again I will admit there is reasonable doubt.
What I am sure of is that the play SHOULD have been called incomplete, and this is where the poor job by the officials all night reached a crescendo. The official who had the best angle ruled an incompletion. What prompted another official who was nowhere near the play to start a discussion that led to that call being changed we will never know. I called Gerry Costello, the assigning football official, Saturday morning and he refused to comment on the game, citing an agreement with the FCIAC.
I spoke to Ireland right after the game and again about two hours later. He was most upset by the manner in which the play was overturned. Ireland would have been angry about the call under any circumstance, but the manner it which the previous 46:38 had been handled by the officials no doubt fueled it.
I don’t complain about officials often. You are dealing in a subjective area. And after speaking to several officials over the weekend, the number of calls has increased in the area this season. Helmet-to-helmet and blindside hits have been made a point of emphasis. Unless I get access to game tape, I’m not going to even gripe about the 25 penalties or the fact that yardage was marked off incorrectly. The big issue was that almost every penalty was followed by a meeting of the crew, even once on a simple false-start. The job of referees in any sport is to get the call right, but the constant state of confusion was a black eye that by disrupting the rhythm affected the course of play. And had already lit Ireland’s fuse.
Kids are a forgiving bunch. The Norwalk players are still understandably raw, but the kidding with Lombardi was a positive scene. Whether the fallout from this game will be as short-lasting remains to be seen.
1. New Canaan (2-0). The Rams have been putting up big numbers during the easiest portion of their schedule. They are in need of a good test.
2. Darien (2-0). The Blue Wave were impressive against Greenwich. Their reward is a week off before the home opener against St. Joseph.
3. Staples (2-0). The Wreckers piled up the rushing yards in a 37-0 rout of Wilton. They should be able to fine tune their game the next few weeks.
4. Greenwich (1-1). We are not going to bump the Cardinals for a loss to one of the state’s best teams.
5. Trinity Catholic (1-1). The Crusaders will be favored in their remaining games, but they will need to be much sharper than they were against Norwalk.