How does a quarterback get sacked, fumble and still throw a touchdown on the same play?
Just ask Shawn Stankavage.
Stankavage, a senior signal caller for Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh, N.C.) High found himself as the answer to that riddle on a play in the third quarter of Gibbons’ 33-28 loss to Southern High (Durham) in the Class 3AA second round playoffs. With the ball at the 5-yard-line, Stankavage scrambled right to avoid a Southern rush, but slipped and lost the ball as he fell to the grass.
Yet, instead of jumping on the ball and completing the turnover, a Southern defender attempted to scoop the ball and run upfield. That turned out to be a big mistake. The Southern player whiffed at the ball which appeared to take a slight deflection off his shoe, which kept it moving. The trajectory of the rolling ball carried it almost directly back into the hands of Stankavage, who had lifted himself off the turf.
As the Southern defense began to celebrate what it thought was a sack and dead ball, Stankavage got back to work. The Cardinal Gibbons star picked up the ball, re-started his roll to the right and connected with wide receiver Dante DiMaggio in the back of the end zone.
If it seems like it isn't possible for all of this to happen in one play, in a sense you're correct. While everything took place following a single snap, for football scoring purposes the play is actually broken down into two separate conclusive events, as discussed in great detail right here.
Essentially, these are the three steps that unfold in Stankavage's touchdown play:
The ball is snapped and the QB drops. The backfield is clear and the QB is looking to pass. The play is ruled by the scorer to be a pass play.
The QB is stripped of the ball. The scorer awards a fumble. In this case, the tackle that is always awarded with every fumble meets the criteria of a sack (QB, behind scrimmage, intending to pass) and thus a sack is awarded. At this point the play is a sack-fumble.
The QB recovers the ball. Regardless of what happens from here, the play is now broken and thus the scorer cannot award another sack. The QB may make a forward pass after a fumble if a) the fumble is ruled as unintentional or b) if the fumble is ruled intentional and does not, at any time, move forward.
Fittingly, the touchdown was easily the wildest in Gibbons’ season-ending loss, though it was nearly topped on the final play of the game. Trailing by five at the 13-yard-line and needing a touchdown to advance, Stankavage took a snap with just 1.9 seconds remaining and got off a bullet of a pass to the end zone amidst a maelstrom of confusion over an apparent timing issue. The ball was still live and could have provided a win if it weren’t for a crashing Southern Spartans defender.
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