by Twm Owen
A WEEK after clashing in Llanharan the South Wales Warriors and Somerset Wyverns will meet again with the extraordinary touchdown scored on Sunday causing further controversy.
The Wyverns had been unhappy that officials allowed the home side’s opening touchdown in last Sunday’s 29-6 loss at the Dairy Field believing they had ‘grounded’ the ball after punting it away towards the end of the first quarter.
Somerset host the return fixture at their Victoria Park home in Taunton on Sunday (2.30pm) looking to avenge their defeat and fueled by the bitter aftertaste of the touchdown they believe shouldn’t have been allowed to stand. The club has also released a video showing the touchdown which suggests the score was wrongly awarded.
Though Wyverns defensive back Ryan Brown had placed his hand on the ball the officials didn’t blow their whistles to signal the play was over leading to quick thinking Warriors linebacker Nate Webb picking it up and sprinting 60 yards to open the scoring after the Wyverns had walked away believing the play was over.
Video highlights now released by the Wyverns show multiple players from the Warriors sideline entered the field of play during the action, meaning the home side should have been penalised for illegal substitutions and the play stopped regardless of whether or not the Wyverns had killed the ball.
Following the game Warriors, head coach Geraint Roberts said the officials had been right to allow the touchdown.
He said: “The explanation was as the defender just put his hand on the ball it was still in play, the kicking team have to pick it up (to ground the ball). It was still in play. Nate turned to the official and asked is the ball still in play and the referee said ‘I haven’t blown the whistle’.
“It was a good head’s up play from Nate Webb and definitely the right call.”
The Wyverns video, released on the club’s official YouTube channel, features 15 minutes of highlights from the British American Football Association (BAFA) Division Two West fixture with the crucial punt and touchdown starting at 2 minutes 10 seconds in.
— Somerset Wyverns American Football Club (@WyvernsAFC) June 5, 2019
On Sunday the Wyverns had been angered that the Warriors had been allowed to return the punt as they believed Brown had killed the ball by touching it.
But the notion of ‘touching dead or grounding’ a live ball is a misconception and what players must do is secure possession of the ball.
Most coaches are also adamant that players who chase down their own team’s punts must not only “secure possession” but having done so hand it to the nearest official.
The BAFA rulebook states when a team has punted the ball away and one of its players touches the ball and stops it rolling, but does not secure possession of it, and then walks away the ball only becomes dead when players “in the vicinity of the ball show no interest in recovering it”.
In the video the Wyverns punt chasers are seen to walk away but Warrior Nate Webb stands over the ball throughout and always maintains his interest in the ball.
But the issue is further complicated in that when Wyverns player Brown touches the ball his knee is on the ground. Under BAFA rules the ball is declared dead “when any part of the ball carrier’s body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground”. Neither is contact from an opposing player required for the ball carrier to be ruled down.
However it may be the officials weren’t satisfied Brown had possession of the ball so didn’t blow their whistles despite the player’s knee being on the ground. The video also shows Webb turning to the nearest official which is consistent with the account that he asked if the ball was still in play and was told the whistle hadn’t been blown.
But as the video also shows the Warriors offensive unit entering the field of play, before Webb turned to the official, flags for illegal substitutions against the home team should have been thrown at that point as players cannot enter the field while the ball is in play.
Though Webb’s touchdown ultimately did not prove crucial it came at an important time in the game and relaxed the Warriors who aren’t used to seeing their offence stumble, especially early in games when the team usually establishes an early lead.
The Wyverns will surely also admit they were second best to the Warriors on Sunday but have taken pride from keeping the Welsh side to their lowest score this season.
Warriors coach Roberts said he would expect improvement in the return fixture with the game littered by mistakes, from both teams, with each throwing five interceptions and dropping almost as many.
The Warriors defence also gave Wyverns quarterback Jack Mullins a torrid time, and he had to leave the game with an injury for a period, but he will surely demand better protection from his large offensive line this Sunday.
Following the defeat the Wyverns have slipped to a 2 and 3 record for the season and as Sunday is their final home game it is a last chance to record a second home victory. The Warriors have a perfect 4 and 0 record and top the table as they have conceded three points less than the Torbay Trojans who have given up just 30 points in their four victories.