A high school in Illinois is turning to the court to send its football team to the 7A state championship game.
Officials from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill., have asked for an emergency order from the court to overturn the results of Saturday’s semifinal game against Plainfield North.
Here’s the situation:
Fenwick led Saturday’s semifinal 10-7 and had the ball at its own 15-yard line with four seconds left. Needing just to run out the clock, Fenwick quarterback Jacob Keller launched a pass deep downfield, toward no one, as time expired. Referees, rightfully, threw a flag on the play for intentional grounding.
Here’s where the controversy came into play.
Instead of the game ending on the intentional grounding play, as it should have, referees mistakenly awarded Plainfield North an untimed down. Given another play, Plainfield North kicked a field goal, tying the game and sending it into overtime where they won 18-17.
No one disputes the referees got the call wrong. The rule clearly states a loss-of-down penalty does not lead to an untimed down if time has expired. The game should have ended on the intentional grounding play, even with the penalty, and Fenwick should have won 10-7.
Following the game, the Illinois High School Association released a statement saying as much, that “the game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
But, citing IHSA bylaw 6.033, Illinois’ governing body of athletics stated, “the decisions of game officials shall be final; protests against the decision of a game official shall not be reviewed by the Board of Directors.”
The situation is similar to what happened in September in a college game between Oklahoma State and Central Michigan when officials wrongly awarded Central Michigan an untimed down after Oklahoma State intentionally grounded the ball as time expired. Trailing 27-24, Central Michigan went for the Hail Mary, which was answered.
Officials from that game were suspended, but Oklahoma State still carries the loss.
But instead of lying down, Fenwick is fighting the ruling.
“Here is my argument,” Fenwick coach Gene Nudo told the Chicago Tribune. “There will never ever be a protest for an egregious act as long as that rule is there. It’s a great way to hide behind something – it is final and that is it. How is that the right thing to do?
“I’m not one of these guys always banging on the IHSA. I get it, they don’t have an easy gig over there. In this instance they had a chance to right a wrong and they didn’t. I get it – how do you tell Plainfield North they didn’t win? But you know what? They didn’t.
“This in no way is a reflection on Plainfield North. I kind of feel bad for them. It takes away from their moment. Those kids worked hard over there also. But the Fenwick kids won it fair and square, and the fact that this [apology] comes out afterward is of no consolation to me or our kids.”
There are two schools of thought here: Use this as a moment to teach young kids that life isn’t always fair or fight.
Nudo and Fenwick have chosen to fight. They will be in court Wednesday morning, with a berth in the state championship against East St. Louis hanging in the balance.
UPDATE: A Cook County judge ruled in favor of the IHSA Wednesday, meaning Fenwick’s season is over and Plainfield North will face East St. Louis in Saturday’s championship game.