I know I should be moving on into the new year, but I just can’t quite let go of 2019 yet. Specifically, I seem unable to file into the past the events of Dec. 28, 2019, when Ohio State lost a national semifinal college football playoff game to defending national champion Clemson, 29-23.
It’s because, in my opinion at least, the best team did not win the game.
Back in a Dec. 7 column, I wrote that the only way the Buckeyes would lose a game this year would be if they beat themselves. And that’s pretty much what happened — too many turnovers, too many missed opportunities in the red zone, and too many penalties at inopportune times. A sloppy field that seemed to hurt Ohio State more than Clemson and a couple dinged up players in key positions didn’t help either.
I know the blame falls primarily on the shoulders of the Buckeyes. But there’s that one officiating call, or actually a reversed call, and the explanation of those in the replay booth of why the call made on the field was reserved, that I really just cannot let go of.
I feel like a New Orleans Saints fan from last year’s NFL playoffs, or maybe a Miami Hurricane fan from 2002, when Ohio State defeated my most despised college football team in double overtime for a national championship. If you know football, you know what I mean.
Having spent the majority of my life as a sports official, I’m not one to be overly critical of the guys in stripes. Because goodness knows I blew my share of calls. But when you are watching from the replay booth, and you have several angles to look at and a good amount of time to do it, I cannot fathom how you can come up with a call like the one that was made against OSU. More than that though, I cannot fathom their explanation.
In case you are unfamiliar with it, here’s what happened: Ohio State was trailing 21-16 in the third quarter. Buckeye defensive back Jeff Okudah stripped the ball from a Clemson receiver after a catch. Teammate Jordan Fuller scooped it up and returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown. The officials on the field ruled that there was a fumble and that Ohio State had scored a defensive touchdown. But after a review from the replay booth, the original call was overturned.
Here’s what replay referee Ken Williamson said after the game: “We had a lot of good looks on it. We put it on fast motion and slow motion. The player did not complete the process of the catch, so, therefore, the pass was incomplete.”
And that’s what still has me thinking it was all a bad dream. Because, unless there is something I am missing, either Mr. Williamson is completely incompetent, or he flat out lied.
I have watched the replay of that particular play several times. Here’s what is painfully obvious: The Clemson player clearly made the catch. He grasped the ball firmly with a hand on each side. He lowered the ball from the point it was originally caught, but at no time whatsoever did he juggle or even slightly lose control of the ball. Not a single finger lost contact with the ball. He took three and a half steps with the ball firmly in his hands, then it was stripped away.
That’s a fumble. All day. Every day. It doesn’t get any more clear.
To top that off, for a call on the field to be overturned, there is supposed to indisputable evidence that the call made on the field was wrong. In this instance there was not. None whatsoever. Not even close.
It makes you wonder where these replays guys come from, and whether or not they have some kind of bias.
Would Ohio State have won the game if the call on the field had not been reversed? We will never know. But the momentum would have shifted completely their way, and their chances would have been immensely enhanced.
There’s a Hank Williams Jr. song with a verse that says, “I’d like to spit some Beechnut in that guy’s eye.” That might not be politically correct, but it’s pretty much how I feel about Mr. Williamson. Maybe it would help his vision.
I suppose that would do little good. The damage is done, and it can’t be undone. But somehow I just can’t quite accept the final outcome.
If Mr. Williamson would just say he made a mistake, I could respect that. All officials make mistakes. But he concocted some type of sideways explanation for his ruling, and that does not sit well with me.
Oh well, 2020 is here, and I suppose that after getting that rant off my chest it’s time to move on.
I suppose it’s time to remember all the special memories people like Okudah, J.K Dobbins, Chase Young, Justin Fields, Ryan Day and many others left me with this autumn. I suppose an undefeated regular season, a Big Ten Conference championship and another thumping of The Team Up North should be plenty to be happy about.
And for the most part they are. But I sure would like to have a chat with Mr. Williamson.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.