By Peyton Fine
How a blown call ensured Harvard’s win over Dartmouth.
By now, you must have heard the narrative of Harvard’s win over Dartmouth. In one of the most anticipated games in recent Ivy League memory, two undefeated and ranked teams fought for control of the race for the Ivy League title. They lived up to its billing as a defensive struggle as both teams failed to eclipse 14 points, and it was as close as could be with the Crimson narrowly defeating the Big Green 14-13. Harvard sealed up the iconic victory by blocking a game-winning field goal attempt as time expired. However, as fans and teammates alike rushed the field and mass euphoria ensued, a blatant foul went unnoticed that could have changed this iconic game in favor of Dartmouth.
First, let’s set the scene. Harvard went into the fourth quarter trailing Dartmouth 13-0. Harvard was unable to mount a comeback until they scored their first touchdown with less than seven minutes remaining to cut the score to 13-7. With three minutes left, Harvard forced a fumble at midfield, and after a little more than two minutes, Harvard got the ball in the end zone to take the lead 14-13. However, Dartmouth was not simply bowing out. Harvard kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds giving the ball to Dartmouth at the 35. Dartmouth moved the ball down to the Harvard 29 in the span of just over 30 seconds to set up the game-winning 46-yard attempt.
Tensions were high as Dartmouth lined up for the attempt. The snap and placement were fine, the kick went up, and then it was blocked. As soon as the kick was blocked, the clock read :00, and Dartmouth could not score from a blocked kick by rule. Seemingly, it is obvious that the game was over because no time remained and Dartmouth could not score. However, unlike in basketball where the game ends as soon as the clock expires, in football, if the clock expires during the final play of a game, the play is still played to its completion. For a play with a blocked field goal to end, the ball must either go out-of-bounds or be recovered by a player and then that player must be brought down. Neither of these two things occurred before Harvard committed two fouls.
The first thing that Harvard did when the field goal was blocked, but before the play and in turn the game had ended, was rush the field. At this point, Harvard should have been flagged for a personal foul for players running onto the field without interfering with the play. This was not flagged, but this flag actually would not have affected the outcome of the game. It would have been assessed as a dead ball penalty, and a dead ball penalty on the last play of the game still allows the game to end as it normally would.
However, there is still one more penalty that should have been called that would have impacted the final outcome. As you remember from above, a blocked field goal play only ends when the ball ends up out of bounds or is recovered and downed. To end the play and the game in turn, Harvard made sure the ball ended up out-of-bounds. Senior linebacker Eric Medes ran to the ball and intentionally kicked the ball out-of-bounds. In that one simple kick, a foul was committed.
Rule 9, Section 4, Article 4 of the NCAA football rulebook states that “a player shall not kick a loose ball.” The penalty is a ten-yard penalty, and the opposing team gets to replay the down. And, unlike the penalty with members of the team running onto the field, the kicking of the ball is a live-ball foul meaning that even though no time was remaining, it is still enforced. Dartmouth, should have received one untimed down from Harvard’s 19, which would have led to a 36-yard field goal attempt. Dartmouth’s kicker had already made a field goal from 39 earlier in the game.
I am a Harvard fan and student, and I surely would not have wanted to see Dartmouth receive another chance to kick the winning field goal on a simple rule oversight. However, I also don’t want to feel as if a win was undeserved or in some way helped on by an external force like poor officiating. No one has brought up this fact even though the live TV broadcast showed the side official standing no more than 10 yards from the aforementioned kick. As much as I want this win to live in its fame, I feel like it will live in infamy as the win that maybe should not have been.
Peyton Fine ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) wants to celebrate the Dartmouth victory like everyone else, but leaves with a sour taste of what should have been.