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Blown call taints ‘Best of West’

Knoxville Football Officials Association supervisor LaTain McGhee, left, and BHS athletic director Lynn Hill follow the action during the Bulldogs matchup with Webb School of Knoxville Friday.- Alan Sloan/farragutpress
The muffed punt that became a muffed call has created much more than a muffled reaction in Bearden High School football circles.

Simply put, Farragut’s only touchdown in its 10-7 victory against arch-rival Bearden Sept. 12 at BHS resulted from a blown call on a punt reception as admitted by the Knoxville Football Officials Association.

Joel Huffaker, one of three KFOA supervisors of officials, said the offending back judge “had momentarily taken his eyes off the player involved and was looking for the ball, to see where it was, and by the time he had looked back the ball had come and gone. He thought the boy caught it momentarily. It’s an error.”

The play involved determining if the punt reception had been “muffed” – where the player receiving a punt lets the ball go through his arms or touches it in any manner without catching the ball.

The Bearden punt returner muffed the ball inside the BHS 5-yard-line, then it was batted into the end zone where Farragut’s Michael Kendrick recovered it for a touchdown and a 7-0 FHS lead late in the first quarter. But the back judge ruled the ball had been caught, then fumbled, which would have made the touchdown legitimate.

But because the ball was not caught – only muffed – the KFOA supervisors said a different Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association rule applies: any muffed ball punted or kicked that breaks the plane of the goal line is automatically a dead ball and possession goes to the receiving team (in this case Bearden) at its own 20-yard-line.

Dr. Bill Battle, another KFOA supervisor, said that after reviewing the controversial punt play “six or seven times,” he admitted the mistake to Bearden head coach Paul Maynard.

“I explained to him, ‘listen coach, it happened, I’m sorry it happened, I wish there was something we could do about it, but there’s just nothing we can do,” Battle said of their Sept. 22 meeting at BHS to review the play. “All we can do is go back and talk to the officials and preach it and preach it and preach it so (proper reaction) is just done automatic on this thing.

“If the score had been 40-0 nobody would have thought anything about it,” Battle added. “But in a game as big as those two rivals are, it’s big as all get-out. It’s a heartbreaker, and I can understand how Bearden could be so down about the thing.”

As for coach Maynard’s reaction, “I could tell he was down about the thing,” Battle said. “But he was very gentlemanly.”

Citing a desire to “move on,” coach Maynard declined comment. Farragut head coach Eddie Courtney also declined comment.

But Lynn Hill, BHS athletic director, gave a short statement:

“All officials are making judgement calls, and you can go back to the end of any game just about and pick out two or three plays that were judgement calls that made a difference in the game,” Hill said. “Especially if it’s a close game. It could be the first play of the game, or it could be the last play of the game, but it still makes a difference in the score.”

As for the offending back judge, “he’s devastated,” Huffaker said. “But he’s an up-and-coming official, his mechanics and his attitude and everything has been great.”

A line judge was downfield on the play to provide backup, but Huffaker said he was “momentarily occupied with a block that he was watching ... and when he looked back the ball was already in the end zone, so he didn’t see the muff.

“We consider that a crew mistake because anytime there’s any doubt the officials are supposed to call timeout and discuss it,” Huffaker added. “The crew is held accountable.”

However, “in that instance, only one man was in position.”

Ironically, Battle was at the FHS-BHS game supervising the officiating crew - which is normal among the 13 KFOA crews – but said he did not see the punt play because he was on the other side of the field. “I’m watching Phil Hatcher (the referee), I want to see how he acts on punts, protects the kicker,” he said.

Apparently unaware of a controversy, BHS coaches did not protest the call during the game. “Nobody said a word, coaching staff, players, nothing was said,” Battle said. “If they’d known they’d been on me like a June bug.”

Moreover, “it was a good four or five days after it was over with before I got the first inkling anything was wrong,” Battle added.

Battle said he was first approached by coach Maynard prior to Bearden’s Sept. 19 game at Karns.

“He said ‘I’d like for you to come over and look at this film, and will you explain to me the rules on muffs and fumbles,’” Battle remembered. “And I told him the rule, and he said ‘I think they missed it.’”


“There’s nothing in the state, nothing with the TSSAA that allows you to protest,” said LaTain McGhee, another KFOA supervisor. “So many of these things are judgement calls. I’m not condoning what happened, but a lot of times you get a quick look at it and it’s gone. It’s sort of like taking a picture with a camera ... it happens occasionally.

“Even though it hurts like the dickens, there’s no way that we can change what happened,” McGhee added. “The only thing, the (Bearden) coaches can scratch those people from working any more of their ballgames if they want to.”

Battle said no specific disciplinary action would be taken against the back judge or the five-man crew, and McGhee agreed.

“We’re not going to suspend somebody for just one call, no,” McGhee said. “A suspension would take place over a period of time when they were not doing the job. As far as we’re concerned with the association, we’re going to talk about it and try and get things better. The state is aware it.

“If it gets so bad, we can get with the state and they can make some suggestions, but they leave it all up to us.”

For action to be taken against an official for a series of mistakes, “I think it would just be handled individually by the by the association (KFOA),” McGhee said. “As far as I know, and I’ve been in this thing (officiating-related) for 46 years, and that’s how its always been handled.”

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