There were several things to take away from East Carolina’s unofficial 30-27 win at Tulsa last Friday night.
The first, of course, was the inaccuracy of the replay reviews, which missed a lost fumble by the Golden Hurricane with 1:52 remaining that would have given the Pirates the ball with an opportunity to run out the clock.
The American Athletic Conference owned up to that one with a statement on Saturday.
The second questionable replay review was on a subsequent pass by the Golden Hurricane that showed the ball on the ground and out of the receiver’s control momentarily. The play was called a catch on the field and was not overturned upon replay review.
The league did not offer public comment on that one, but it appeared to be the more blatant miss of the two video reviews on Tulsa’s last possession.
Pirates coach Mike Houston said he had conversations with the AAC office about the ruling on the so-called reception. He would not comment Monday on the explanation he received from the AAC.
A second takeaway from what goes down as a 34-30 win for the Golden Hurricane was Houston’s remarkable restraint in the aftermath of a series of calls that kept a final scoring drive going for Tulsa.
That shows a lot about his personality and self control. He can handle extreme adversity with a stoic objectivity. He was more concerned about his players being denied a reward for their effort and performance in a game where they were 18.5-point underdogs than venting on some atrocious officiating.
“I would have been arrested if I were an ECU coach” said late night ESPN host Scott Van Pelt on Twitter. “It was unbelievable.”
A third reaction to the situation was that the AAC fell short in its response.
In 2015, when Miami took a tainted 30-27 win at Duke with a game-ending kickoff return that involved a set of laterals, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced a series of mistakes by the crew on the field on the final play as well as the replay official. ACC commissioner Johnny Swofford also announced a two-week suspension of the officials.
As ESPN reported at the time, replay official Andrew Panucci was named and the ACC said he should have ruled Miami back Mark Walton was down before releasing the ball on a lateral. If the proper call had been made, the game would have ended in a Duke victory.
The on-field officials failed to penalize Miami for an illegal block in the back at the Miami 16-yard line..
The on-field crew also failed to penalize Miami receiver Rashawn Scott for leaving the bench and running onto the field before the play ended.
A block in the back penalty that was called — at the Duke 26-yard line — was picked up after the officials conferred. They correctly determined that the block was from the side. Referee Jerry Magallanes did not effectively manage communication and properly explain why the flag was picked up, according to the ESPN report.
Coincidentally, Scottie Montgomery was Duke’s offensive coordinator at the time. Montgomery became coach at ECU the next season. Blue Devils quarterback Thomas Sirk, who scored the final go-ahead touchdown against Miami, later transferred to the Pirates program. In ECU’s 2017 season-opening 34-14 loss to a visiting James Madison team coached by Houston, Sirk and Gardner Minshew, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, played quarterback for ECU.
Montgomery is now offensive coordinator at Maryland. Taulia Tagovailoa is the Terps quarterback. He is the younger brother of former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who recently moved into a starting role with the Miami Dolphins. Earlier on the night of the ECU-Tulsa game, Maryland edged visiting Minnesota, 45-44, in overtime on a missed extra point by the Golden Gophers kicker in another strange ending.
The Pirates’ game at Tulsa finished on the morning of Halloween on the East Coast. It was after midnight, eastern time, when the officiating got scary bad.
In a betting-oriented review of the game, Van Pelt noted that the over-under point total was exceeded on the last scoring drive. That insinuation should be examined thoroughly by the AAC.
Tulsa’s last scoring drive was boosted by a 4th-and-10 pass interference call on a late flag from back judge James Sima prior to the botched replay reviews. Van Pelt said Sima threw the flag about 35 yards. It still landed short of where Warren Saba broke up the pass.
In 2018, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo went to the AAC about a block in the back penalty that Sima called in a 24-17 loss to Temple. The coach of the Midshipmen felt it cost his team the game. The referee in that game was Anthony Calabrese, who also was the white hat last week at Tulsa.
Since 2018, the AAC has partnered with the ACC for football officials. Bryan Platt is the AAC supervisor of officials. He works under the direction of Dennis Hennigan, the supervisor of football officials for the ACC and the administrator of the officiating alliance between the two conferences.
The Pirates have been beset by trying circumstances for two straight games, having played without starting quarterback Holton Ahlers in a 27-23 home loss to Navy on Oct. 17. Ahlers’ absence apparently was due to a false positive COVID-19 test.
ECU would seem to be overdue for some good fortune.
Houston emphasized that the Pirates must move past the fiasco at Tulsa as Tulane comes in for a noon kickoff on Saturday.
“We can’t let that game beat us twice,” said the second-year Pirates coach.