Absolute madness in my ELF game today:
In front of the largest regular season crowd in ELF history (12,055 fans - everything is relative!), Jim Tomsula's Rhein Fire (5-4) needed to win against the reigning champion Frankfurt Galaxy (6-3) to have any chance of reaching the playoffs, and with 10 minutes left it certainly looked like they would do just that: they led a very tense and entertaining game 20-15 and had 2nd and goal at the Frankfurt 2 yard line. Then an attempted handoff to the fullback was botched and led to a fumble which the Fire somehow recovered...and no sooner had I called the recovery, I lost the feed from the stadium. I didn't know if it would be a short glitch or something more serious, so I made a quick judgement call and decided to refresh my connection. I succeeded and resumed commentating just in time to see the subsequent shotgun snap on 3rd and goal catch the Fire QB unaware, and this time, Frankfurt recovered the fumble.
The Galaxy then marched slowly and methodically down the field with no timeouts, having wasted them all during the third quarter, and got the ball into the Red Zone just before the two-minute warning. Tomsula surely had to start calling timeouts at this point, insofar as a) if they ever got the ball back with the lead, they could just kneel three times to win the game, and b) they needed to save time in case Frankfurt scored to take the lead. But...nope. Tomsula did nothing, keeping all three of his timeouts when Frankfurt threw a TD pass to Reece Horn with 21 seconds left, and the Galaxy led 21-20. It was a truly hideous job of clock management, and I said so repeatedly in my commentary; Frankfurt missed the 2-point conversion, but that seemed unimportant, especially after the Fire's kickoff return only came out to their 31 yard line with 12 seconds left.
On first down, the Fire completed a 14-yard pass up to the 45: out of bounds with 6 seconds left. Tomsula finally took a timeout, and both coaches came onto the field to chat with their players. I'm looking at normal pictures on my feed of the sort that you would get during a timeout...and then suddenly the Fire had snapped the ball without warning and receivers were sprinting down the field. Their QB threw the ball deep, and they somehow seemed to have gotten one-on-one coverage: WR Timothy Knuettel caught the ball around the 10, wriggled free from the man guarding him and got into the end zone. And as I was incredulously commentating on this, I heard what seemed like an whistle and said "Hold on - hold everything!", and then I saw the yellow "FLAG" graphic on my screen, and surely there was no play and the TD wouldn't be allowed to stand. Sure enough, the referee announced an illegal motion penalty against the Fire - but then he also called a 15-yard penalty on the Frankfurt bench, on account of their coach being on the field during the play that I thought had been waved off. And then I see the replay, and the referees had spotted the ball so quickly that when the Fire snapped it, there were at least 15 Frankfurt players on the field as well as several coaches and I think a couple of cameramen. It was borderline farcical.
So I now announce that the ball should be spotted at the Frankfurt 45 - from the Fire 45, minus 5 yards for the illegal motion, plus 15 yards for the unsportsmanlike conduct - which, I noted, is exactly where the ball was spotted for the Championship Game-ending 62-yard FG attempt against Frankfurt last year which fell just short. Instead, the ball was now somehow at the Frankfurt 37. Huh? No idea how that happened, and apparently, neither do the live stats people at the game, insofar as they recorded a 5-yard penalty and a 13-yard penalty against Frankfurt. The Fire were still never going to attempt a FG from there (more on that in a moment), so with 6 seconds still left on the clock, they set up in Hail Mary formation...but I immediately noted in commentary that a quick completion might be enough to get them in field goal range. And sure enough, they ran a quick out and picked up 11 yards against non-existent coverage to get the ball to the 26 yard line with 3 seconds still on the clock.
Now, the Fire's kicking situation this season has been an utter shambles. Their specialist kicker at the start of the season - who kicked a game-winning FG against Frankfurt in Week 1 - was released after Week 8 due to gross incompetence, but the player they intended to sign to replace him then failed his physical, and somehow they never got around to finding a different replacement before the signing deadline a couple of weeks ago. Their punter had done OK kicking field goals and extra points in his first game, but after missing three PATs in a row to start last week's game, Tomsula replaced him in the middle of the game with one of his cornerbacks - René Hanssen - and he'd gone 3 for 3 on extra point attempts. Today, Hanssen's first XP attempt was a low line drive that barely cleared the crossbar, and his second was an even lower line drive that went UNDER the crossbar. Have you ever seen an extra point attempt not get as high as 10 feet off the ground? His third attempt, after halftime, was much better, but this was the guy they now had lined up to attempt a 43-yard buzzer-beater. He'd not attempted a field goal all season, and moments before I was speculating as to which of three possible kickers might be called upon to take a kick from that sort of distance...and of course Hanssen promptly drilled the ball almost perfectly through the uprights to win the game and keep the Fire's season alive. How's that for a way to call my first-ever game-winning field goal?