Bethune-Cookman won the game 35-31 when officials overturned an apparent touchdown pass from David Legree to Isaiah Thomas on the game's final play, which would have given the Pirates a 37-35 victory.
Officials on the field initially signaled a touchdown after Thomas crossed the goal line and was then tackled. But when the ball came out of Thomas' hands as he was spun down and hit the ground, officials scrutinized the replay. After several minutes, the touchdown call was reversed.
MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in which he said that, in addition to conference coordinator of officials Rosie Amato, he sought assistance from three outside sources: Rogers Redding, the National Coordinator of Football Officials and NCAA Football Rules Committee Secretary-Rules Editor; ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads; and Conference USA coordinator of officials Gerald Austin.
"Upon their review," Thomas' statement read in part, "it was concluded unanimously that the ruling to reverse the on-field call to an incomplete catch was accurate therefore invalidating the final Hampton touchdown."
Pirates coach Donovan Rose was deeply disappointed by the ruling. He took particular exception to the rules cited in the conference statement in its justification for nullifying the touchdown -- "that the airborne receiver did not maintain control of the ball after hitting the ground, and by rule did not fulfill all the elements of the process of completing the catch."
"I don't agree with that," Rose said. "I'm not going to let this sit, because that's not what happened."
Indeed, replays show that Thomas caught the pass at the goal line and crossed the plane of the goal line with possession of the ball. Bethune-Cookman defensive back D.J. Howard spun Thomas to the ground as he took two steps in the end zone, with Thomas landing on his rear end. The ball came loose when late-arriving B-CC defensive back Jean Fanor's knee made contact with Thomas as he hit the ground.
"He took two steps into the end zone," Rose said. "He had the ball when he crossed the goal line. He wasn't airborne. I don't see how those rules apply."
Rose also cited the NCAA rule book's requirement for overturning calls via instant replay.
"You're supposed to have indisputable evidence beyond all doubt," he said. "There was no indisputable evidence."
Rose was perusing the NCAA Rule Book as he spoke. He had learned of the conference's ruling only a few minutes before, and the more he spoke, the more agitated he became. He was unsure what further recourse, if any, the football program or his superiors had, but he didn't sound inclined to move on just yet.
"I don't like the way I feel," he said. "I want to find out more. I want to fight for my players. They worked too hard to have this taken away from them like that. I think this is a gross injustice."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun