Behr: Sideline warning not needed at the time
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Freedom, heavily favored over Watauga, just scored a touchdown in overtime to take a 41-34 lead. Watauga, the football program turning over a new leaf under new head coach Ryan Habich, was facing a fourth-and-six in the Pioneers' overtime possession.
It was potentially the final play of the game. Watauga felt the play was so important, it used its timeout to call a play instead of using the 25-second play clock to make a decision.
The play was selected. The huddle was broken. The two teams were all lined up.
But as the ball was snapped and the Pioneers started this fateful play, the whistle blew.
A flag hit the Jack Groce Stadium turf.
Did somebody line up offsides? Was Watauga moving before the snap? Were the Pioneers lined up in an illegal formation?
No, nope and, um, sorry.
Instead, the Pioneers were called for a sideline warning.
Really? A sideline warning? On the 6-yard line when the rest of the team is 20 yards away from the play?
Since it was Watauga's second sideline warning of the game, the Pioneers were penalized five critical yards on the game's potential final play.
Since Watauga snapped the ball and showed the Patriots, and more importantly their coaching staff, which play they were running, they had to call another without the benefit of a timeout.
Quarterback Aaron Dobbins' fade pass to Cam Baker was broken up by Freedom cornerback Khris Gardin and fell incomplete.
I don't like calling out officials for calls I disagree with. They have my respect for the job they do, the heat they take and for their willingness to explain rules and calls they make when I'm taking photos along the sidelines.
The overwhelming majority of them are good people. The ones I know personally even joke with me during preseason scrimmages when I offer to give them a hard time on a call, "just to get them ready for the season."
And I'm sincerely hoping that Watauga Nation doesn't do an ignorant and stupid thing like send threating letters on the Internet or emails or make similar phone calls.
The Watauga County I know is better than that. My request isn't for 99 percent of the classy folks reading this. It's just for the people who might get carried away and need to refocus their perspectives.
But this was the 800-pound gorilla that suddenly entered the field and plopped down in the Freedom end zone. And it should have not been let in.
I did not see the infraction, but that's not saying it didn't happen.
In fact, I'm willing to bet it did. You have a curious coaching staff and group of players watching a possible game-tying play against a longtime rival and they may get a little too close to the field.
But I'm also guessing this is not the spirit of the rule of the sideline warning.
Keeping the players away from the edge of the field gives the players actually on the field more room to operate in case there is a play on the sideline. It also gives the officials more room to work so they're not constantly bumping into coaches and players.
It's a good rule. It's for the safety of players, coaches and officials and I had no problem with when it was called as a warning.
But nobody's safety was in doubt when the second call was made. The action on the field was 20 yards away from the Watauga bench. Unless Freedom's defense chased a Watauga player 20 yards backwards, nobody was going to be injured.
Sometimes, the call is correct technically, but also does not fit the spirit of the rule.
Much to his credit, Watauga coach Ryan Habich showed an infinite amount of class when asked about the call. He said it forced Watauga to call another play, but also said the Pioneers should have executed it.
He also said the call should not be used as an excuse for the loss.
I like coaches who see things that way. Other things beat Watauga, starting with a good Freedom football team. The Patriots broke a 65-yard touchdown pass to Gardin, who can play on the next level.
Watauga had other chances to win the game, but made key mistakes that were costly.
Watauga lost the game, not the officials.
But sometimes, when a potential penalty has no bearing on the action on the field, the flag should stay in the officials' pocket.