By KEVIN CONNELLY
Cardinal Mooney senior Mark Handel said he thought he “made a good play.”
His coach, P.J. Fecko, went even further saying, “I think Mark made a great play.”
Clarksville Clinton-Massie coach Dan McSurley danced around the pass interference call in question before answering with, “It was a big play.”
Everyone’s interpretation of the pivotal call that went against Cardinal Mooney in the final minutes of Friday’s Division IV state championship game will be different.
The impact of the call, however, will not be disputed.
After the penalty yards were assessed, Clinton-Massie received a fresh set of downs from the Cardinals’ 10-yard line with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, running back Bayle Wolf scored the last of his three rushing touchdowns to put the Falcons up 27-21 with just over a minute remaining.
“It’s tough, but it shouldn’t have come down to that,” Handel said. “It did and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The drama unfolded with Clinton-Massie facing a fourth-and-5 from the Cardinal Mooney 20-yard-line. Falcons quarterback Hunter Fentress ran a play-action fake and lobbed a pass over the middle toward the back of the end zone.
“I saw the receiver run a post [route],” said Handel, who was defending from his cornerback position. “Obviously I thought I was in good position and thought I made a good play, but I don’t know if [the official] didn’t see the tipped ball or what.”
Handel was in one-on-one coverage with Clinton-Massie wide receiver Dylan Rose, as he was all game thanks in part to the snowy weather conditions affecting both teams’ already-limited passing attacks.
“After the tipped ball I pulled him down and I think that’s when [the official] threw the flag,” Handel said.
Handel later said that he dragged down Rose after the ball was tipped because that‘s what he was taught to do in that situation.
Fecko had a similar viewpoint of the controversial call.
“The ball was thrown high and as he was reaching for it Mark poked at it — you know they both went at it — and obviously there’s going to be contact at that point,” Fecko said. “It will be interesting to look at it on tape. I think there was some conference there between the officials whether or not [it was a penalty] and obviously they stuck with that call.”
It wasn’t the final play of the game for the Cardinals, who had 1:03 left and 79 yards to go with three timeouts.
Quarterback Jon Saadey scrambled for 22 yards on the first play of the drive before being dragged down out of bounds on the Falcons sideline — a tackle that initially drew a flag from an official.
However, unlike the previous flag that landed on the snow-covered turf at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, this one was picked up and waved off.
“We were trying to move it down and we had some plays set in there,” Fecko said. “I thought we did a good job of gaining field position and then we were going to get that extra 15 [yards]. Not sure exactly what happened over there or why that was called off.”
Three plays later Saadey was intercepted, finishing off the Cardinals once and for all.
“I’m not the official,” Clinton-Massie coach Dan McSurley said of the pass interference call. “He saw what he saw and obviously that was a big play.”
As for the explanation Cardinal Mooney received afterward about the pass interference call, Fecko sounded less than satisfied with the answer.
“I believe it was that he was playing defense from behind,” said Fecko.