Officiating: The One-Point Safety
2013 Fiesta Bowl
Oregon Ducks 31 at Kansas State Wildcats 10
One-Point Try after Touchdown by Oregon, 8:03 of Q3
Alejandro Maldonado Kick Blocked, Recovered By Kansas State For 1-Point Safety For Oregon
There's nothing quite like a play the referee refers to as "unusual." Here, the Oregon Ducks attempted a one-point try following a touchdown (commonly referred to as the "extra point"). In an amazing display of blocking ineptitude, the snapper somehow ends up responsible for two rushers, one of whom breezes by and gets both hands on the ball. The ball flies up into the air and a defender catches it in the air. Seeing no running room in front, he retreats roughly two yards, into his own end zone, and attempts a return from there (even trying to use the side judge as a pick).
Oregon's special teams are having none of this, and the holder of all players rushes in and attempts a tackle in the end zone. The ball carrier attempts to lateral the ball to a teammate, who drops it. The receiver eventually recovers in the end zone and is tackled by an Oregon player.
There are two interesting facets to this play: Referee Ron Cherry's description of the ball being "declared dead by the defense" in the end zone, and the peculiar NCAA rules that allow for a one-point safety in this situation.
I think Cherry was vague on the actual reason the ball was dead because the officiating team didn't stick with the play well enough. There are multiple possible rulings;
1. The ball carrier was down by contact after retreating into his end zone, as his knee is apparently down before he throws the ball;
2. The "lateral" was actually an illegal forward pass in the end zone, which was not flagged. A penalty in the end zone of the team in possession is a safety by rule;
3. The player recovering the loose ball in the end zone was tackled.
I should note that scenario 2 is a somewhat strange situation in that most yardage penalties on a try after a change of possession are declined by rule. Fortunately for Cherry (and somewhat unfortunately for us), scenarios 1 and 2 are both perfectly valid reasons to rule the ball dead in the end zone. However, Rule 8-3-2-d-3 provides the try ends if "an accepted penalty results in a score." Considering the explicit language in 8-3-2-d-3 allowing for acceptable of a penalty that results in a score versus the vague language automatically declining a set of yardage penalties in 8-4-a, it seems clear that the rulesmakers wanted to allow for situations like this one.
Those readers more familiar with NFL or high school football might be perplexed by the idea of a one-point play for either team on a scrimmage kick try. The NCAA has a unique approach to tries (both one- and two-point varieties) in that they are treated as "an opportunity for either team to score one or two points while the game clock is stopped after a touchdown" (Rule 8-3-2). Compare this to the NFL rules, which provide that "the scoring team is awarded a Try in an attempt to score one or two additional points during one additional scrimmage down," and that "if the defense gains possession, the ball is dead immediately" (Rules 11-3-1 and 11-3-2-c). The National Federation of High Schools goes one further and additionally provides that a scrimmage kick try is dead once the ball breaks the plane of the end zone.
If this play was a safety, however, why were the Ducks only awarded one point, and why wasn't Kansas State required to kick to Oregon as they would after a normal safety? As for the points, Rule 8-3-1 requires that "points shall be scored according to the point values in Rule 8-1-1 if the try results in what would be a touchdown, safety or field goal under rules governing play at other times." The scoring rules for tries therefore overrides the normal scoring rules. Since the try was actually kicked, it was a one-point try and therefore any scoring by either team is awarded one point.
Congratulations to Cherry and his crew for handling a bizarre situation with skill and poise on national television, even if his description was a bit vague. Here's video of both the play and Cherry's description.