With less than a minute remaining in the game and trailing 35-28, Mitchell High School senior quarterback Noah Pitman found senior receiver Garrison Phillips in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Elliot Kadans’ extra-point attempt was good and the No. 2-seed Mountaineers were tied 35-35 with the No. 1-seed East Surry Cardinals with 38 seconds remaining in a game with a trip to the 1AA state football championship game on the line.
That’s how this story should have been written.
Everything is true except the scenario where Kadans hits the extra-point and the events that follow. Phillips caught the pass for a touchdown, but the referee ruled the catch out-of-bounds, which set up a fourth-down conversion attempt that fell short and ultimately ended the game, and the season, for the Mountaineers.
It’s the second year in a row Mitchell’s season has ended as the result of a controversial call – a roughing-the-passer call negated an interception returned for a touchdown against Murphy in 2018.
A little more than 12 hours after the game ended, Regional Supervisor/Coastal Plains Football Officials Mike Webster responded to videos and photos he was given of the catch. In a letter to Head Coach Travise Pitman, Webster admits the referee’s call was incorrect.
“By the fact that the toe strikes first and then subsequently the heel, this should have been ruled a touchdown,” Webster said. “I can only try to understand your disappointment with this missed call, as it could have had a bearing on a very well-played game with a lot weighing on who plays in the state championship. The official who made the call was in a great position and was the only one that could have seen the call or weighed in with a decision. I agree with you, he missed it. I have discussed this play with him and he is deeply disappointed. Simply stated, it was a tough call that we missed.”
The argument among those at the game or those that have seen the footage is not that Mitchell was robbed of a victory, it’s that Mitchell was robbed at the chance of victory.
There are a thousand scenarios that could have played out after that touchdown reception – Mitchell could have gone for two and converted, gone for two and failed, East Surry could have scored on the first play of the next drive and won the game, etc.
But, the only possible scenario because of the call was an East Surry victory, and that’s exactly what happened.
“He didn’t miss a call, he made a call,” said Chad Calhoun, Mitchell County superintendent of schools. “It’s very said because it’s the players that put all this hard work in for years and a dream of playing in a state championship game is taken away by a bad call. I’m very proud of our players and coaches.”
A way to curb the number of instances where a referee makes an incorrect call is an instant replay, at least in games as important as this.
Many of these players will never play football again, and something they love was taken away from them too early because of human error. If “to err is human,” then implement instant replay.