Plainfield North won the Illinois Class 7A state semifinal game last weekend by scoring a do-or-die two-point conversion in overtime to stun Fenwick High. Plainfield surrendered a touchdown on Fenwick’s opening drive, but they pushed down on the throttle and were rewarded for their bravery with a trip to face East St. Louis in the state championship game.
Problem is, the game never should have gone to overtime. On the final play of regulation, with Fenwick holding a 10-7 lead with four seconds left on a meaningless fourth-and-15, quarterback Jacob Keller chucked the ball downfield after the clock had expired, seemingly putting a bow on the semifinal win. However, officials slapped Fenwick with an intentional grounding penalty, and gave the ball back to Plainfield North for an untimed down. Plainfield North kicked a field goal on the next play, sending the game to overtime and setting the stage for their wild game-winning play. Thus began the saga that’s since turned into a legal battle over who gets to go to the state championship game.
After the game ended, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced that the officials had boned it, the untimed down should never have been awarded, and that Fenwick should have won.
“On the final play of the fourth quarter in today’s IHSA Class 7A Semifinal Football game between Fenwick High School and Plainfield North High School, an error was made by the officiating crew, which resulted in an untimed down being awarded to Plainfield North.
On the untimed down, Plainfield North tied the contest with a field goal and then went on to win the game in overtime. Per Rule 3-3-4 in the 2016 NFHS Football Rules Book, the game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded.
The IHSA also said that the decision, however erroneous, was also final.
IHSA by-law 6.033 clearly states that “the decisions of game officials shall be final; protests against the decision of a game official shall not be reviewed by the Board of Directors.”
Given that rule, the contest result shall remain final with Plainfield North advancing to the Class 7A State Championship.
Officiating gaffes are an unavoidable in sports, even game- and championship-deciding ones, but this particular decision is an acutely painful one for Fenwick, since it came at the very end of the game and there are no hypotheticals to consider about what could have happened in regulation after the final play. The game should have ended. Instead it kept going.
Fenwick coach Gene Nudo voiced his disapproval of the IHSA’s decision and said that his team should be awarded the win because the call was flat out incorrect, not a judgmental misinterpretation. The IHSA invited Fenwick to appeal, then later determined that they wouldn’t hear the appeal. So the school filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court of Cook County, seeking a judge’s decision on the matter:
“During the Saturday, Nov. 19 7A State Semi-final football game between Plainfield North High School and Fenwick High School, play was extended beyond regulation playing time in direct violation of Illinois High School Association (IHSA) rules governing football, which eventually led to a loss for Fenwick.
“Pursuant to the outcome of the game, IHSA invited Fenwick to submit an appeal to the IHSA Board. Early Monday morning, the IHSA Board determined that it would not hear the appeal. As a result, in an effort to protect the rights and rightfully earned opportunities of its students, Fenwick High School has filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois seeking declaratory, injunctive and other relief against IHSA.”
Judge Kathleen Kennedy is scheduled to hear the case tomorrow morning and make a ruling. Fenwick reportedly cited a 2008 decision in Mississippi when a similar situation was eventually overturned by an athletic ruling body, as well as the IHSA’s own reversal of the 2008 Illinois state wrestling tournament. It’s rare for any on-field dispute to go to a professional judge for adjudication, but since Plainfield has said that they will prepare for the upcoming state championship game and will not forfeit, the case rests with a higher authority. Hopefully, justice is served.
Update, 12:01 p.m. EST: The judge has ruled in favor of Plainfield North.