Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
Jason Gaus was in just that opportune position Friday, when he saw the ball squirt free from the grasp of teammate Drake Long on a crucial fourth down play.
Long was tackled far short of a fourth down, and Rockwood’s comeback hopes appeared to be circling the drain. But as Oneida’s sideline and fans began to cheer, the ball popped free. Gaus scooped it up and just managed to outrun Oneida’s defenders to the first down stick. The result was a first down, keeping the drive alive for quarterback Will Warner’s game-winning touchdown with 34 seconds remaining.
At any other level, Oneida would have won the game; the play would have been dead at the spot Long fumbled the football.
The rules of high school football and college football are virtually identical. Typically, when college football adopts a rule change, high school football is just around the corner.
But one of the very few areas where the two differ is on fourth down fumbles.
In college, as in the NFL, the offensive team cannot advance a fourth down fumble, unless the player recovering the fumble is the player who initially fumbled.
The rule has roots in 1978’s “Holy Roller” play by Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler. With his team trailing 20-14 and time running out, Stabler intentionally fumbled as he was being sacked at the 24-yard-line. Two of his teammates “accidentally” (later admitting it was intentional) batted the ball forward, and tight end Dave Casper fell onto the ball in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown as time expired. As a result, both the NFL and college adopted rules to prevent “forward fumbling” by the offense.
The National Federation of State High School Associations — the NCAA of high school football — never adopted the rules change, however; the NFHS rule book states that any player can advance a fumble on any play.
Several people mistakenly believed the fourth down fumble rule applies at the high school level, including yours truly. After the game, I asked Roane County News sports editor Goose Lindsey — who was at the game — about the rule and he, too, learned something new about high school players’ ability to advance a fourth down fumble.
It was questionable whether the fumble was actually a fumble. Long himself reportedly said after the game that he knew he was close to being down, and fans from Oneida and Rockwood alike said they felt his knee was down before the ball squirted free. Oneida coach Tony Lambert argued the ruling of the play, to no avail.
But, as they say, there’s no use crying over spilled milk, and Lambert was the first to point to that after the gut-wrenching game ended.
“Hey, that’s history,” Lambert said. “It’s in the books. We’ve got to move forward and get ready for a strong Hampton team.”
Somewhat ironically, that pivotal fourth quarter play wasn’t the only one where a rare rules difference between high school and college ball came into play. The other occurred in the first quarter and benefited Oneida.
On the Indians’ first possession, OHS missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. At the college level, Rockwood would have taken possession at the 29-yard-line — the line of scrimmage before the kick (in the NFL, the ball would have been placed at the 36-yard-line — the spot of the kick). In high school ball, possession after a missed field goal is automatically placed at the 20-yard-line, regardless of what the line of scrimmage was before the kick, as long as the kick crosses the goal line.
Record-setting Scott: Prior to last season, Scott had scored 60 or more points in a single game just two times in program history, dating back to 1971. The first was in 1979 — a 61-0 win over Maynardville. The second was in 1999, when the Highlanders defeated Jellico, 68-8.
In 2013’s season opener, Scott defeated McCreary 61-0, tying the school record set in 1979 for largest margin of victory.
On Friday, Scott scored 60-plus points for the fourth time in school history and the second time in as many seasons, and set a new record for largest margin of victory, with the 63-0 win over McCreary Central.
Another team record was also believed to have been set during Friday’s game. Although unconfirmed, it appears that the seven turnovers — four fumbles, three interceptions — forced by Scott’s defense was a school single-game record.
Ryan’s a weapon: Speaking of records, one that’s seldom kept up with is anything involving kickoffs. When it comes to the kicking game, return specialists and placekickers get all the hype and glory. But the kickoff abilities of senior Ryan Jeffers are proving to be quite a weapon for the Highlanders.
Of Jeffers’ 11 kickoffs during Friday’s game against McCreary Central, seven were touchbacks — almost certainly a school single-game record. In fact, Scott High has often gone entire seasons without accumulating seven touchbacks.
In high school ball, a kickoff that crosses the goal line is automatically a touchback and the return team does not get an opportunity to advance the ball.
“It’s hard for even really, really good teams to drive 80 yards consistently,” Scott coach Keith Shannon said. “Ryan’s a great weapon and we’re blessed to have him.”
Odds-and-ends: While Friday’s game was the final of a home-and-home series between Rockwood and Oneida, it could have been a tune-up for a forthcoming region rivalry. The TSSAA projects that Rockwood will be in Region 2-AA when new classifications go into effect prior to next season. Oneida has been projected to be in Region 2-A, but that could change, depending on enrollment numbers. According to folks in the know on what TSSAA’s cutoff will be between Class A and Class AA, and what Oneida’s final enrollment number is likely to be, there’s very little margin for error . . . Oneida sophomore Nash Lay, who went down with a rib injury during the fourth quarter of Friday’s game, is “okay,” Lambert said Sunday afternoon. Tyler Swindell battled a sore back but was also said to be okay. Scott High was injury-free during Friday’s game against McCreary Central.