ODU Athletics

Get the Max With Minium: C-USA Admits Refs Made Wrong Call That Likely Cost ODU a Win at ECU, and for that, Monarchs deserve an apology

October 01, 2018
By ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

Had officials made the correct call on a key play Saturday night, it’s almost certain that Old Dominion would have beaten East Carolina. Actually, had they made the right call on three or four plays late in the game, ODU might have won.

The Conference USA director of officials issued a statement on Monday saying Justice Davila's aparent interception, which was ruled an incomplete pass, in the Monarchs' heartbreaking, 37-35 loss to the Pirates, should have been ruled a catch.

“I have confirmed that even though the official may have gotten the call correct, he was too technical in his decision to rule incomplete on that interception,” said Gerald Austin, a stand-up guy who had a long career as a referee, including several appearances in the Super Bowl.

“He should have called it a catch and let play replay decide. We cannot take a play away from a player that we cannot back up as officials.”

Before I take you into the details of what happened here, let me say that his statement isn't enough.

ODU is owed an apology. You can't change the score and humans will make mistakes. But the number of mistakes here warrant an "I'm sorry."

That's what I say when I make mistakes. C-USA should do the same.

It's not that I'm saying the refs should give ODU breaks because they work for Conference USA. But the number of calls that went against ODU were inexcusable.

There was a pass interference call on an ODU defender who was definitely interferring, but the ball likely was uncatchable. If it was uncatchable, then the flag should have been picked up. But that didn't happen.

On a crucial third-down play, quarterback Blake LaRussa tried to pass to Jonathan Duhart, whose jersey was being pulled by a defender. No flag.

As he was being sacked, in the final seconds, LaRussa's face mask was briefly grasped by an ECU player. It was close, it may not have warranted a penalty. But once again, the benefit of the doubt went to ECU. 

And then, the worst of all, was the call on Davilla's INT with just less than a minute to go.

At the time, ODU held a 35-34 lead. Had Davilla's interception not been waved off, ODU would have been able to run out the clock and claim a key non-conference victory.

Instead, ECU booted a 38-yard field goal with 46 seconds left.

It's a little complicated, but what should happen in a case like this, Austin told ODU coach Bobby Wilder, is that the refs should rule it a interception, and let the replay booth figure it out.

Had it been ruled an interception, replay officials would have had to find overwhelming evidence that Davila did not catch the ball. Take it from someone who watched the replay a dozen times on Monday (thanks to ODU video director Wendell Mitchem), no such evidence exists.

However, because it was ruled an incomplete pass, the ref in the replay booth had to find overwhelming evidence that he caught the ball. It was close, very close, but I can’t disagree with the replay booth on this one. 

What made this call so infuriating is that the referee in front of the play, the guy with the best view, ruled it an interception. But a second ref, who was shielded from by play by an ECU receiver, ran over from 10 or 15 yards away and ruled that Davila bobbled the ball.

Wilder released the statement from Austin during his weekly press conference Monday and he stressed Austin wasn't saying his crew blew the call. Wilder also chose his words carefully, even though Saturday night he said what happened in the fourth quarter made him "sick to his stomach" for his players.

“All he was saying is that it should have been ruled a catch, and then gone up to the replay booth for a decision,” Wilder said

“When I went back and watched it on the video and slowed it down, which is obviously a lot easier to do than what those guys on the field have to do when the game is live, it clearly looked like a catch to me

“We felt like we won the football game,” Wilder said. But when he met with his players Monday morning to inform them of the statement, he also reminded them they had plenty of opportunities to put the game away and didn't.

All they needed was a couple of first downs on two late possessions, or a stop on an ECU fourth down and 10. 

“I shared the statement with our players this morning simply because they needed closure,” Wilder said. “Here’s the answer from the league. Now it’s time to move on.

“I could feel the emotion in the room. You get 12 opportunities to win. And for young kids, that was a heartbreaking way to lose. So we have to close it, we had to acknowledge it and move on.”

ODU (1-4) moves on to play at defending C-USA champion Florida Atlantic (2-3) on Saturday as a 15-point underdog.

Steven Williams may red shirt

Wilder said that Steven Williams, who started at quarterback last season as a true freshman, will redshirt as long as Blake LaRussa remains available and continues to play well.

Williams played pretty well under duress as a 17-year-old freshman last season, but Wilder has always said he would benefit from a redshirt season. 

Williams lost his starting position when redshirt LaRussa came off the bench against Virginia Tech and threw for 495 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another. LaRussa also played well against ECU, passing for 250 yards, even though he was under constant pressure from ECU's defensive front. He was sacked nine times.

Wilder said that a few days after LaRussa's performance against Virginia Tech, he sat down with Williams, offensive coordinator Brian Scott and quartebacks coach Ron Whitcomb and they agreed as a group he should redshirt, if possible. The final decision wasn't made until Wilder talked with Williams' parents and former high school coach. 

"We'd like him to get that year back," Wilder said. "For a quarterback, that year of development is so important."

Under NCAA rules, a player can redshirt if he plays in four games or less. Williams has played in four games.

For now, the plan is to use Drayton Arnold in emergency backup situations. True freshman Jonah Fitzgerald, a walk-on from Roanoke, might also play if a game gets out of hand. Fitzgerald has been impressive in practice.

As for Willliams, Wilder said he's the consummate teammate, something he showed on Twitter last week when he urged ODU fans to vote for LaRussa for a quarterback of the week award.

"He was more than on board," Wilder said. "He said 'coach, whatever the team needs.' That's the way he's been since he came here last year."

Wilder happy that Virginia Tech won

Some Virignia Tech fans worried that the 49-35 loss to ODU, one of the biggest upsets in college football, might dampen the Hokies' spirit for the rest of the season

No reason to worry. The Hokies recovered quite nicely, crushing No. 22 Duke, 31-14, in Durham.

"I was glad to see that," Wilder said. "(Virginia Tech coach) Justin Fuente is such a first-class guy."

Tech, which re-entered the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 24, plays one of its biggest home games ever Saturday night when the Hokies host Notre Dame. Former head coach Frank Beamer, who initially agreed to play at ODU six years ago, will be honored at the game.

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