As the nation heads into another weekend of high school football championship games, referees might want to consider using a slightly lighter touch on throwing flags for excessive celebration. After the last two weeks, they're probably still licking their public relations wounds.
Before the nation's top running back prospect was ejected from a state quarterfinal for high stepping into the end zone and a Massachusetts quarterback had a title-winning touchdown called back for premature celebration, a Florida team was summarily eliminated from the playoffs after being forced to play a state semifinal without its star quarterback, who was ejected for a bizarre double unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for an incredibly brief look downward at a defender who happened to collapse at his feet.
As covered by the Pensacola News Journal, Pensacola (Fla.) Northview High senior quarterback Brandon Sheets was banned from his team's 25-21 loss to Chipley (Fla.) High in the Florida Class 1A state semifinals after what can only be described as a questionable taunting penalty during his team's quarterfinal victory. The flag game after Sheets crossed the plane of the goal line of a 6-yard run late in the third quarter during his teams 43-13 win, and you can see video of the entire incident above.
What happened immediately after that first penalty against Sheets almost defies explanation. For some yet unknown reason, a second official threw a second flag on Sheets, who was being escorted away from the end zone by a teammate when the flag hit the ground. The quarterback wasn't protesting the first flag, and he wasn't talking to anyone either. He was walking back to his team's bench.
However, the damage had already been done. Officially, the referees had flagged the quarterback for a double unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which results in an ejection. That ejection carried with it an automatic one-game penalty, in this case to be served out during the state semifinal.
According to News Journal sports columnist Bill Vilona writes, the entire scene was shrouded in so much uncertainty that it was possible to miss the second flag being thrown altogether, which should be worth a certain amount of credit to Sheets and his coach, Sid Wheatley, for holding the quarterback out despite not knowing that he had officially been ejected.
In truth, both flags thrown against Sheets could very well be questioned. If a first flag was warranted -- and the quarterback did look down on top of an opponent, if only for less than a single second -- then there was certainly no need for a second. As video of the incident shows, there was absolutely no hint of the taunting moment escalating to anything more serious, despite the fact that Sheets' touchdown essentially spelled the end of Freeport (Fla.) High's season.
That Northview would then have to play its semifinal without its star quarterback for such a minor transgression is both shocking and disappointing. If nothing else, it makes one wonder if the Class 1A state title game might be missing one of the team's that rightfully should be there, at no fault of Chipley, which absolutely earned its way in, too.