State titles often come down to a single play, and the importance of those plays are only emphasized when they come on special teams. Yet in one Texas state title game, the victorious squad may have made its own break in special teams by cheating its opponent, even though the referees never caught on.
The play you see in the video above was a 4th-and-35 snap in final minutes of the third quarter of Cedar Park (Texas) High's Class 4A Division II state championship game against Lancaster (Texas) High. With the game tied 7-7, Lancaster was lined up to punt out of the back of its own end zone when the team's longsnapper Derrick Leonard appeared to botch the snap, leaving a loose ball on the turf.
Lancaster eventually recovered the loose ball, but since it was fourth down Cedar Park still took over on the Lancaster 6-yard-line. Minutes later the Timberwolves hit a field goal to take a 10-7 lead they would never relinquish en route to a 17-7 victory.
However, the question isn't about the result of the botched snap, it's what caused the snap to be botched in the first place. According to the Dallas Morning News, Leonard's snap was batted at the line of scrimmage by a Cedar Park defensive lineman.
More specifically, Cedar Park nose tackle Ben Harral as it was en route to the Lancaster punter, forcing the turnover and setting his team up for a game-changing field goal. From his vantage point, Lancaster coach coach Chris Gilbert made no bones about what he thought of the play.
“That was huge,” Gilbert told the Morning News. “That’s like cheating. You can’t do that. And the officials refused to acknowledge it. That gave them a score.”
While Cedar Park coach Joe Willis seemed to acknowledge that one of his players had made contact with the ball -- he said that if his player had swiped it away that was simply a "heads up play" -- NCAA rules, which are shared by Texas' governing body UIL, make it clear that the snap should have been ruled illegal and the play blown dead if Harral made contact with the ball.
The Morning News looked up the three specific subsections about the rule and published them right here, if you'd like to have a closer look at the semantics behind the play's illegality. Regardless, the salient point is that the snap should have been blown dead and the punt attempted again.
Would a clean punt have changed the final outcome? In all likelihood it probably wouldn't have. Still, in a tie game late in the contest, every single break matters, and that was a huge one for Cedar Park and against a Lancaster squad that was scrapping for every break it could get.