The Jackson Broncs’ hurry-up offense ran four plays on its final possession of Friday’s 3A semifinal in Torrington. Jackson ran two running plays and each time the offense quickly got back to the line of scrimmage without huddling. The third play was another run that ended with the ballcarrier going out of bounds to stop the clock. The fourth play was a 55-yard Jeydon Cox touchdown run that took nine seconds off the clock.
The Broncs offense put together a speedy, four-play touchdown drive on its biggest possession of the season to take a 21-14 lead over Torrington with 1 minute and 10 seconds to play. The four-play drive only took 55 seconds off the clock.
On Torrington’s ensuing possession the Blazers were able to return a kick and run 17 plays for 67 yards in just 15 seconds more time than it took Jackson to run four plays for 70 yards. Torrington began the drive with one timeout remaining.
Possible? Maybe. That’s a blistering average of 4.1 seconds per play.
Jackson faithful has issues with the entirety of Torrington’s final drive that gave the Blazers a 22-21 win, but I’ll focus on the final six plays.
The Blazers offense had the ball at the Jackson 7-yard line with zero timeouts and 10.4 seconds remaining with an opportunity to get a first down before a score. The first two plays were incomplete passes that took 4.1 seconds off the clock. I have no issue with how those two were timed. The next play, though, is where things really start to smell.
Torrington completed a swing pass to the tailback who caught the ball roughly seven yards away from the sideline. He was met by three Jackson defenders about five yards from the sideline before he churned his legs to push the pile out of bounds and stop the clock. When that play began there was 6.3 seconds on the clock. When the play ended Jackson coaches said there was 5.8 seconds remaining.
I timed that play myself four times and each of the four times my watch was between 4.3 and 4.6 seconds. Wyoming-Football.com wrote a summation of the final 10.4 seconds and had this play timed at 4.6 seconds.
For just a half second to run off the clock instead of four isn’t human error. Call it whatever you want, just don’t call it a mistake. Jackson coach David Joyce said this was the moment it became obvious to his players, the coaching staff and the visiting fans that this was not a fair fight.
“They’re not stupid, they saw what was going on,” Joyce said of his players. “They could see it. Everybody there could see it. They ran off .5 second on a completed swing pass. A half a second went off the clock.”
That’s the play that I’m most puzzled by, but it doesn’t end there. I timed the final five plays before the Torrington touchdown run that began with 1.6 seconds on the clock, and my average time was 15 seconds. Wyoming-Football.com came up with 15.4 seconds for the five plays prior to the TD. The Torrington clock operator only took 8.8 seconds off the clock during that time.
If we use 15.0 instead of 15.4 that means that 6.2 extra seconds were added to the game clock over the final 10.4 seconds of game play. That’s — at the absolute minimum — two extra plays that Torrington was allowed to run in the final 10.4 seconds of a playoff football game.
Timing errors happen throughout the course of many high school sporting events. Seconds are gained and lost all the time. But six additional seconds over the final 10 seconds of the game? Get out of here.
I’m not going to use the C-word. I don’t know who was operating the clock. All I know is that he or she was assigned to the position by the host team. The Jackson players, though, did not hesitate to use the word.
“I think it’s a pretty big shame that some adults had to go in there and cheat for [Torrington],” Jackson senior defensive tackle Ben Brown said.
Senior linebacker and guard Ted McDaniel didn’t mince his words either.
“We all know that we were cheated out of it,” he said.
Both Brown and McDaniel complimented the Torrington players and coaching staff for their sportsmanship and behavior during and after the semifinal showdown. Every player or coach I talked to praised the Blazer football program. Their problem wasn’t with anything Torrington’s football team did. Their issue was with one person, a person who was likely too biased to have been trusted with that much power to begin with.
Admission isn’t free during playoff games. According to the Wyoming High School Activities Association handbook, “20 percent of the adjusted gross income will go to the host school, with the balance to the WHSAA.”
That money couldn’t have been used for an impartial clock operator? I understand this might get expensive at a state volleyball or basketball tournament where games are played all day for three straight days. But the WHSAA should absolutely be able to afford to pay one person to work a 2-hour football game.
Speaking of the WHSAA, the organization has not yet held anyone accountable for this. Commissioner Ron Laird declined an interview request by the News&Guide and instead emailed a response (attached to this article online) to the allegations that, in short, said the outcome cannot be changed.
Nowhere in Laird’s email did he acknowledge any wrongdoing by the Torrington clock operator. Jackson players would have loved another shot to settle things on the field, but that’s not what they were looking for from Laird. They just wanted accountability.
“Our voice isn’t being listened to effectively and no one’s being held accountable for what actually happened,” said McDaniel, who was one of many who emailed Laird about the situation.
Senior tight end Derek Griebel said an acknowledgment of wrongdoing would go a long way in easing the pain of what he said was a stolen victory.
“It would mean the world to me,” Griebel said.
Jackson Hole High School activities director Mike Hansen was in contact with Laird immediately following Friday’s outcome and again on Saturday and Sunday. Hansen said that, despite no action taken as of yet, Jackson’s complaints are being heard.
“Ron’s a good man,” Hansen said. “He’s definitely hearing us, and he wants to solve this problem as well. Because he does not want to see things end this way.”
Hansen said Laird and the WHSAA could hand out a punishment to Torrington, but there’s a good chance that penalty would do nothing to honor Jackson’s request for accountability.
“The WHSAA could possibly sanction a school,” he said, “and if they did that I don’t know that that would necessarily be public.”
I expect something in the near future from the WHSAA and Laird beyond his email response. The WHSAA can’t set this type of poor precedent. Right now incentive exists for something like this to happen again. I don’t suspect it will, but there’s certainly no deterrent.
More importantly the WHSAA needs to acknowledge fault. No one in particular has to be blamed. But the WHSAA must publicly address the fact that one of the biggest games of the season was extended to benefit the home school. The Jackson football team deserves at least that.