September 26, 2011

Higgins: Two big plays, two correct calls

Tom Higgins

Our league has always been exciting, but I’m hard pressed to remember a season that was as unpredictable as this one. Last Saturday’s game in Toronto not only produced an upset, with the Argos upending the first-place Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it also produced several unusual plays.

One of those unusual plays produced a pivotal moment and a rare call that had fans talking. On the said play, Toronto returner Chad Owens mishandled a punt, the loose ball bounced into the end zone, and the Bombers appeared to recover it for a huge touchdown.

Click here for a full list of CFL officials.

However, Owens had been unable to attempt to recover his fumble because a member of the Winnipeg cover team tackled him well after the ball came loose. The Bombers were penalized for “interference on a loose ball”, their touchdown was nullified, and Toronto was awarded possession of the ball.

The rule book clearly states: “A player shall not deliberately interfere with an opponent attempting to recover a loose ball following a blocked kick, a dribbled ball, a fumble or a wild snap from the centre, an offside pass, an onside kick and a kick that does not cross the line of scrimmage.”

Typically, a ball carrier fumbles as he is tackled, the ball comes loose, and the tackler finishes his tackle. There is also the case of incidental contact as players from opposing teams scramble to recover a loose ball.

In these circumstances, it is tough for an official to conclude that deliberate interference took place. But on the play Saturday night, the Bomber player made no attempt whatsoever to recover the ball as he instead grabbed Owens and pulled him to the ground, preventing Owens from making a play on the ball.

There is no doubt that it was a huge call in the game, but it was such a clear case of “interference on a loose ball”. I also have no doubt Andre Proulx’s crew made the right call.

Another big play, another correct call

Several fans asked me about a big play in a big game in Week 12 in which the same Bombers pulled out an important win in Montreal.

In the second half, Anthony Calvillo dropped back to pass, and then, under some pressure, he tucked the ball and ran down field and past the line of scrimmage. He went down on his own accord, head first, and the ball came loose after he hit the ground but before he was touched. It was ruled a fumble – another pivotal play in a tight game – and that was upheld upon video review.

This play raised several questions including: when does a QB become a ball carrier who is no longer afforded protection under the protocols we’ve put in place to safeguard our QB’s from unnecessary physical contact?

Even though Anthony had taken off down field, the play would have been whistled down when he hit the ground, even without him being touched (and before the fumble), if he had slid feet first. A feet first slide is considered, if you will, a sign of surrender.

When Anthony went down head first, he could have continued to advance the ball until touched, or even got back up, so the play was still live and so was the ensuing fumble. Glen Johnson’s crew handled an unusual play very well, and Matt Dunigan explained it well on TSN.

Click here for the 2011 CFL Rule Book

Q FROM BILL: I want Tom Higgins to explain the Defensive “Illegal Procedure” call from Saturday (September 17). The infamous “Defence caused the offence to move’ call. There seemed to be some confusion, even as Andre was making the call. Did he really mean to call offside?

Tom Higgins:
Andre Proulx’s crew also did the B.C. at Calgary game that day and had another very strong game. On the play you’re asking about, an offensive lineman moved before the snap of the ball, but the officials ruled that his movement was caused by a defensive player jumping offside.

The rule book says: “If a Team B player enters the neutral zone within one-yard of the line of scrimmage causing a Team A player in the immediate proximity to move before the ball is snapped, Team B shall be subject to a penalty for offside.”

One official may have thrown a flag for procedure, and then another official pointed out what prompted the offensive player to move. So Andre may have had the word “procedure” on his mind when he made his announcement. He should have said the penalty was “offside” on the defence. But, once again, the right call was made. And that’s our top priority: getting the call right.

Q FROM SB: I thought there were two different contacting the kicker penalties, the first being contacting the kicker, for ten yards, and the other more severe and worth 15 yards. I can’t find the second one in the rule book. Either I am mistaken or the rule has been changed in recent years. (I thought it might be roughing the kicker but that’s not there.) Can you clarify?

TH: Yes, you’re right. There are two different penalties, and they’re tough to find in the rule book, although they’re both in there.

Page 52 refers to Contacting the Kicker, a ten-yard penalty from the point of last scrimmage, for touching the kicker while in the act of kicking, unless he has scooped a loose ball, he has made a motion to pass or run, an opponent blocks or touches the ball, or someone has been blocked or pushed into the kicker.

There is also no penalty if the referee decides the contact is “slight and incidental” and had no effect on the play. The “act of kicking” is defined as starting when the kicking foot leaves the ground and ending when the kicking foot returns to the ground. Page 54 refers to Roughing the Kicker, as part of the general rule on unnecessary roughness. It’s a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down.

It generally refers to contacting a player late or in an “unnecessarily rough manner.” Officials pay particular attention to contact on a kicker’s plant leg, which is highly vulnerable.  

I’d like to give a very special thank you to everyone in Moncton for your tremendous hospitality at Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic. I can tell you the warm welcome you gave Referee Kim Murphy and his crew, and everyone from the CFL, is deeply appreciated.

Kim’s crew invited local amateur officials to join in its’ preparation for the Hamilton vs. Calgary game. They also attended the CIS game Saturday between Mount Allison and Saint Mary’s, where Kim evaluated some amateur officials we have our eye on.

Our guys love the game, and are dedicated to their craft. Our officials are not always right, and they certainly not always popular with passionate fans, but I can tell you they are always pros!