CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With a College Football Playoff berth in play for Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, the league’s officiating crew botched a critical call in the game’s defining moments.
Larry Fedora went to bat for the ACC officials following a blown fair catch penalty in North Carolina’s win over Wake Forest in October. The reasoning, according to a source, was to play the PR game that involves discretion in public and criticism in private. That effort was met with the ACC inexplicably standing by the call in a release to the media.
Fedora elected not to play that game this time around, in the minutes following his team’s 45-37 loss to No. 1 Clemson at Bank of America Stadium.
“I had a chance to look at it, and they missed it,” Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They were wrong. That's all I'm going to say about it. They were wrong.”
The Tar Heels cut their 15-point deficit to eight on a 17-yard touchdown pass play to Ryan Switzer from Marquise Williams with 1:13 to play. Fedora opted for an onside kick, which is where the officiating controversy exploded.
Freeman Jones's kick was secured by walk-on Hunter Crafford, which would have given Fedora a short field with three timeouts at his disposal. Instead, the ACC officiating crew flagged UNC for an offside penalty, negating the change in possession.
The only problem was that the call was wrong, and most everyone watching recognized that fact.
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham joined Fedora in critizing the ACC officiating crew, telling Yahoo Sports, “They got it wrong.”
The ACC maintains the offside call was not reviewable, despite NCAA Rule 12, Article 4 (b) stating that reviewable plays involving kicks include determining if a player is beyond the neutral zone when kicking the ball. Crafford, who was the closest player to the line of scrimmage, was clearly behind the line when Weiler made contact with the ball.
UNC was unable to recover its subsequent onside kick, and Clemson ran out the clock on its way to the College Football Playoff.
“At the time, we thought it was the correct call,” Switzer said. “Obviously, that wasn’t the case, so yeah, it’s frustrating. It didn’t lose us the game, but it didn’t help us win the game, either. At this point, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
There is nothing that UNC can do about it, although the continued officiating blunders is something that the ACC office will have to address this offseason.