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Controversial fumble key ingredient in Navy upset

Nov 10, 2009, 6:45 PM EDT

If you were to diagram the anatomy of an upset, Robby Parris’ fumble on the third play from scrimmage could qualify as the first crucial piece needed for a Navy victory. The only way Navy was going to win this football game was for Notre Dame’s offense to give up possessions, and starting in the first hundred seconds of the game, Navy got that wish.

With Jimmy Clausen flushed to his right, he found Parris squatting in the right flat just across Navy’s side of the fifty. Parris caught the low throw, then was quickly wrapped up by cornerback Blake Carter, who pulled Parris awkwardly down, his helmet popping off and the ball coming loose.

The referee’s whistle blew no fewer than ten times before linebacker Ram Vela scurried over, first closing in on the play before hopping onto the ball as Robby Parris hobbled off without his helmet. Yet without a replay board in the stadium, Navy smartly challenged the ruling on the field.

The Big East replay official overturned the ruling on the field, awarding the football to the Midshipmen. Twelve plays, six minutes, and two crucial fourth down conversions later, Navy lead 7-0, bleeding half of the first quarter away in the meantime.

When asked about the overturned fumble during his press conference Tuesday, Charlie Weis was understandably rankled.

“The whistle had blow,” Weis said. “What I was disputing is that they blew the whistle and stopped the play
and then there’s a rule, a seldom called rule about a fumble after
continuous play even though the whistle had blown. So I mean it’s not a
question whether the whistle had blown. The whistle had blown.

“So this isn’t like your normal ball’s on the ground everyone goes and
scrambles and gets it. About five or ten seconds later the guy goes and
recovers it. They had called it down. They were just moving forward.
They got challenged and got overruled by — I know the rule number and
everything about continuous play.

“But I’m saying to myself: You blew the play dead. Five seconds later they go recover the ball and now it’s a fumble? But there is a rule about continuous play. Now, that rule does exist.”

After watching the replay, it’s pretty easy to see Weis’ point. Parris made no effort to fall on the loose ball as the whistle had clearly sounded, and no referee threw a bean bag or signaled anything other than that the play was clearly over.

Taking things a step further, here’s the text straight from the NCAA Football rulebook.

Rule 12-3-3-b states:

A ball carrier judged to have been down by rule when the recovery of a fumble by an opponent or teammate occurs in the immediate action following the fumble and is prior to any official signaling that the ball is dead.

(Note 1: If the ball carrier is judged down by rule and the replay official does not have indisputable video evidence as to which player recovers the fumble, the ruling of down-by-rule stands.)

(Note 2: If the ruling of down-by-rule is reversed, the ball belongs to the recovering player at the spot of the recovery and any advance is nullified.)

After watching the play a dozen times, it’s pretty hard to say with certainty that the fumble was recovered in the immediate action following the fumble. Vela was eight yards away from the play when the tackle was made, and while he was in continuous motion, it’s pretty tough to call Vela hopping on the ball an immediate action, especially since he’s the only player (or referee) on the field to even notice the loose ball.

While it’s certainly not the only reason Notre Dame lost the game on Saturday, it’s another one of those pivotal plays that seemed to have gone against Notre Dame this season (especially on their home field).

To his credit, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo sensed the importance of this opening drive, burning two timeouts, converting two fourth downs (not to mention overcoming a 2nd and 14 and a 3rd and 10), before Dobbs snuck the ball over left guard for a touchdown.

Navy needed a crucial early turnover to spring the upset, and thanks to Parris’ fumble, Vela’s heads-up play, a bold challenge by Niumatalolo, and a interpretive replay official, Navy got what it needed.  

  1. ugetwutuask4 - Nov 10, 2009 at 6:48 PM

    I’ll end the GOOD, the BAD, the UGLY, like this:
    The good is ND has rich history, yes. Currently a good COACH who is proving that the EXPLOSIVE players ND needs at the SKILL positions to WIN in big time college football are WILLING to sit on ND’s side of the football “table” when ND meets on saturdays to discuss “BUSINESS” with the “BIG EIGHT” or any other team ND might face in a big time bowl game in the future. ND FORGETS that back when GOOD OL’ MR HOLTZ was around ND still had PROBLEMS with DEPTH on ND’s roster. Well maybe not depth but lets just say not as many future nfl players. Or at least you can say not as many as the CANES (CONVICTS), NOLES, GATORS, ETC. So, these teams have always been around. Even when ND was WINNING natn’l CHAMPIONSHIPS and facing teams such as the ‘CANES (CONVICTS) AND NOLES LOADED with plenty of NFL talent, which are teams compairable to toady’s GATORS and USC teams. ND knew back then ND couldn’t compare to the AMOUNT and SIZE of talent they had but ND WAS TOUGH ENOUGH to BEAT those teams on any given day ESPECIALLY at HOME. Don’t forget ND is merely trying to “eat” with them because on any given day EVERY team is BEATABLE, I’m sure any- and everyone would agree with that even if you live in VEGAS, L.A., DALLAS, MIAMI, ETC. ND may or may not EVER be a DYNASTY AGAIN but I’m sure EVERYONE would be happy with 1 ‘CHIP every 10 OR 20 YEARS as long as ND has waited! The DIFFERENCE is back then, HOLTZ was able to get in a players FACE and MOTIVATE the players to if nothing else DEFEND ND’s FIELD, ND’s TURF, ND’s HOME. ND needs that back. The number one IMPROVEMENT I can see to DEFEND ND’s “PLATE” ND’s “SEAT” at the “table” is, ND’s FRONTLINE. LOU had BIG, PHYSICAL, TOUGH, INTELLIGENT LINEMAN who were getting DRAFTED left and right by NFL teams. Saturday ND saw an O-line and D-line that was BEATEN BADLY for ND’s “SEAT” at the “TABLE”, something HOTLZ would never have allowed. I’m NOT saying it is or isn’t ND’s current coaches fault. But EVERY PLAYER at ND’s “TABLE” were recruited to defend ND’s TEAMMATES and ND’s UNIVERSITY. I never experienced college life but I did play football at a high level at MT.CARMEL in CHICAGO, IL., home of players such as McNABB, SIMEON RICE, CHRIS CALLOWAY just to name a few; and attended ND’s games in SOUTH BEND, IN. and at SOLDIER’S FIELD. I know that their is “TALENT” in the MIDWEST along with CAL, TX, FL, OH, ETC. Not as much but it’s their.
    The BAD is WHO can PROVE, or will PROVE, or has PROVEN that they can get ND back to that natn’l game? At least 1 more time if not ever again in ND’s LIFETIME. When it really MEANS something IE CHAMPIONSHIP. Because everyweek means SOMETHING to ND that’s nothing new. BUT like on saturday it meant EVERYTHING to NAVY and EVERYTHING to ND in terms of a BCS BID and ND did not show up to play ND’s part.
    The UGLY is ND’s CURRENT coach, THOUGH a great MAN albeit, has PROVEN with his RECORD when measuring W’S AND L’S when they count MOST, that he is INEFFECTIVE! How can ND get to the BIG one if ND can’t BEAT the little ONES for ND’s spot at the “TABLE”?

  2. Dennis - Nov 10, 2009 at 9:25 PM

    Can we please get an official ruling on this play from whatever conference those referee’s belong to? There is no way that’s an immediate action. That rule is clearly for a scrum where the whistle is blowing, but everyone is fighting. People stopped playing. That should be a good enough indicator. That completely ruined the game. ND had plenty of chances and deserved to lose, but their entire mental advantage was thrown out the window. Horrific call.

  3. TLNDMA - Nov 11, 2009 at 12:17 AM

    This is the ‘excuse de jour’, gimme a break. A friend of mine pointed out one of Weis’s faults to me tonight. He said “Charlie coaches like he is still in the NFL”. A prime example would be his play calling in the Michigan game. In the NFL a qb with under 2mins. and no timeouts can still be effective. But had Charlie made Michigan use their timeouts by running the ball, and then punting, he would have made Michigan drive the field (60 to 70 yds) with no timeouts and about 1:45 left on the clock, and a with freshman qb. Could they have done it? yes. Probable? no. When you win they hardly ever expect excuses.

  4. seeUsoon - Nov 11, 2009 at 10:28 PM

    Wait a second!
    “twelve plays, six minutes and two crucial fourth down conversions later”….and you want to talk about a game changing fumble?
    C’omon, ND was outplayed and out-muscled by a good Navy team. End of story.

  5. Troy - Nov 13, 2009 at 6:42 PM

    I have watched the play,but nobody says anything about the facemask penalty that should have been called when Parris helmet was ripped of his head maybe that is why he did not recover the ball.

  6. mike - Nov 14, 2009 at 12:51 PM

    Why does everyone blame charlie?? The players need to play up to their potential just once for a whole game would be nice.

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