NELKE: A highlight of a play that was all good

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It wasn’t quite like the “Holy Roller” play involving the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers nearly 40 years ago.

But it was similarly zany ... and entertaining.

And, according to Roger Stewart, quite legal.

TO SUMMARIZE — On the last play of the first half, Coeur d’Alene defensive back Kyler Prendergast intercepted a desperation pass by Madison at the 11-yard line. He headed upfield, veered left and down the sideline, in front of the Vikings’ bench.

Around the Madison 5-yard line, Prendergast was being tackled. As he was going down, he lateralled the ball behind him to teammate Ross Chadderdon. The ball bounced off Chadderdon’s chest and bounded forward, where teammate Caleb Beggerly, who was trailing the play, scooped it up and appeared to juggle it across the goal line, where he secured possession.

After a few moments of discussion, the officials signaled touchdown.

“It is actually legal at all levels,” said Stewart, who as District 1 football commissioner for the Idaho High School Activities Association is in charge of the officials in our area. “The runner tried to hand/pass the ball backwards, which was then muffed by the second player. Any backward pass is recoverable by any player to be advanced. Think about these goofy plays at the end of games where the ball is being pitched backwards all over the field.”

(He noted that in college, on fourth down a fumble can only be advanced by the player who lost possession).

Stewart was not at the Coeur d’Alene game — he was in Montana to work a game on Saturday. But when he read about the play, he figured that “I need to take a closer look.

“Understand the distinction between a fumble and a handoff/pass,” he said. “A fumble is an unintentional act — the runner did not intentionally lose possession of the ball. In high school, anyone can advance a fumbled loose ball. A handoff or a pass are intentional acts. The runner intentionally tried to give possession to another player.

“Now, the restrictions — forward handing or passing the ball are illegal acts. Handing or passing the ball backwards are legal acts, and, if the ball is muffed (not possessed) then the loose ball can be advanced by either team with no penalty.”

The refs had a lot to sort out on that play, Stewart said.

“First, they were discussing that the ball was live and not downed when picked up, and that the handing/passing of the ball was backward,” Stewart said. “Then, there were multiple fouls for excessive celebration after the score. One CHS player took his helmet off in the end zone, which is an automatic foul. Other players came off the bench. Instead of assessing 45 yards of penalties against CHS, the crew correctly decided to lump them all together as one act and only assess the 15 yards.”

IN THE Holy Roller game in 1978, needing a touchdown on the game’s final play, Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler was being sacked around the Chargers’ 20-yard line. As he was going down, a defender grabbing his arm, he basically flipped the ball forward, off the turf. At the time, it was ruled a fumble. The ball bounded toward the goal line, where another Raider pushed the ball forward. Raiders tight end Dave Casper reached down to pick it up around the 2, but ‘accidentally’ dribbled the ball into the end zone with his foot, where he fell on it for the game-winning touchdown for the Raiders.

Since then, the NFL changed its rules so, at certain points of the game, fumbles can only be recovered by the player who fumbled, but can’t be advanced.

Back to last Friday’s “Pick Lateral” play.

“Notice that I don’t use the term ‘lateral,’” Stewart said. “Lateral is a term exclusively used by TV announcers. The rules only refer to forward and backward handing/passing. The philosophy of ‘when in doubt’ if it is forward vs backward — if passed overhand and the ball falls to the ground ... when in doubt it is forward and incomplete. If passed underhand and the ball falls to the ground ... when in doubt is backward and a live loose ball.”

And, as it turned out, a play for the highlight reel.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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