Dramatic as it may have been, no one would call Auburn's 16-13 victory over South Carolina Saturday a classic. Both teams committed game-altering mistakes by the bushel, and on the game's final play it seemed that sloppiness had extended to the officiating crew. Via Mocksession.com, here's what the end of that play looked like:
Yes, that's Gamecock Bruce Ellington clearly down past the first-down marker with 2 seconds still to play. But by the time officials signaled for the clock to stop, those two seconds had elapsed, Auburn's players spilled onto the field, and the game was ruled over. Steve Spurrier was left confused and less-than-happy:
"We made the first down. I thought his knee was down with at least one second left. In fact, I know it did. The referee said when his knee went down it showed 0:00. That's what he told me.
"I said, 'wait a minute, don't you review that?' He said, 'no' that it was zero. He said 'that's it, it's all over.' "
Though the SEC office has been willing in recent years to admit when its officials have made mistakes, in this case it has backed up the crew on the field. The Twitter feed of conference official Chuck Dunlap had this to say Saturday night:
Statement regarding end of SC/AU game: According to rule 3.3.2e, when a team is awarded a first down, the game clock is stopped when the covering official gives the timeout signal. Based on review, the covering official followed proper procedure.
To be fair to the official, between making the judgment that Ellington was down, the signal to the timekeeper for the clock to stop, and the clock actually being stopped, there's easily two seconds' worth of potential human error involved. We're not going to argue with Dunlap that "proper procedure" wasn't followed.
But we've also seen that procedure happen much more quickly than it was in this instance. We don't blame Spurrier or the Gamecocks at all for feeling like they should have been given the opportunity for one more play. They should have.
But that's also the risk any team runs when throwing over the middle with no timeouts and the clock down to its final seconds, and that one extra play would have had to have been a low-percentage Hail Mary if it was anything at all. Allowing for at least one second to run off between Ellington hitting the turf and the clock stopping, either a spike or sprinting the field goal team on for a 47-yarder don't seem like realistic options. And herding both teams off the field for a replay review to add that one second back on the clock -- giving Carolina a chance to properly set up for their field goal try, a chance they'd done nothing to actually earn -- wouldn't be remotely fair to Auburn.
The bottom line? The Gamecocks and their fans have a right to complain. But they shouldn't confuse that right with the belief that the officials had more to do with the outcome than Stephen Garcia's decision to check down to Ellington to begin with.