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Team robbed of shot at game-winning FG with no time left because of replacement ref-level call

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Los Angeles (Calif.) George Washington Prep has been building up a previously underwhelming high school football program, entering Friday's game with a surprising opportunity to win its fifth game of the season. Equally surprisingly, with no time remaining in the fourth quarter of that contest against Wilmington (Calif.) Banning High, Washington Prep still appeared to have a shot at that accomplishment.

Then the officials on the field took away that opportunity in an instant, and Washington was left literally in tears wondering why.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Generals trailed Banning 14-13 but held the ball with just seconds remaining in Friday's game. On what should have been the final play of the game, Washington quarterback Damian Murrillo dropped back and connected with receiver Keith Scott, who should have been stopped for a relatively short gain, but kept on running until he was finally brought down deep in Banning territory.

That should have ended the game without incident, except for one important detail: Officials had thrown a flag on the play for unsportsmanlike conduct, thought to be related to a Banning shot on Scott as he was tackled. As soon as the penalty was announced the Washington sideline sprung into celebration; the 15-yard penalty would push the Generals well into field-goal range, and since the game couldn't end on a penalty, they would get one second on the clock to attempt a game-winning field goal.

Yet, that miraculous escape wasn't to be, as the referees further muddied the waters by declaring that the unsportsmanlike flag was a dead ball penalty, whistling the ball dead and officially ending the game.

Naturally, that doesn't make any sense. If the penalty was a dead-ball foul after the final whistle, then no flag should have been thrown (though the incident could have been noted in a game report for consideration for further discipline against players involved). That's apparently what the officials should have done, with the whistle allegedly related to a taunting incident immediately following the final tackle.

Unfortunately for the officials, they threw the flag, indicating that there was, in fact, a penalty on the play that was still governed by the rules of the game itself, meaning that it occurred during the course of play in the game, making for a gaffe that would have fit perfectly with the rash of incidents that brought a sudden and undistinguished end to the NFL's 2012 replacement referee era.

As noted by the Times' Eric Sondheimer, the Washington players and coaching staff handled the situation with sheer integrity, perhaps letting the officials off easy in the process. Naturally, that doesn't make the final decision any more fair, but it does show that Mike McCarthy isn't the only person to see the larger merits of handling a difficult situation with a touch of class.

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