Saturday, January 4, 2003

Ref's late call nullifies Miami victory

The Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - As Craig Krenzel's fourth-down pass fell to the ground in the end zone, Miami players charged onto the field in celebration. They were certain they were national champions again with a 24-17 victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday night.

Sean Taylor threw his helmet into the desert sky in triumph.

It was all so premature.

Ohio State photos
In the far corner of the end zone, beyond the big Bowl Championship Series logo, field judge Terry Porter threw a flag after what seemed an eternity.

Porter ruled that freshman cornerback Glenn Sharpe interfered with intended receiver Chris Gamble on the play.

"I saw the guy holding the guy prior to the ball being in the air," Porter said. "He was still holding him, pulling him down while the ball was in the air."

So what took him so long to throw the flag?

"I replayed it in my mind," Porter said. "I wanted to make double-sure that it was the right call."

Initially, Porter signaled defensive holding.

"Then I realized it should be pass interference, because the ball was in the air," he said.

He first signaled incomplete. Then came the long wait.

"I saw it again," Porter said, recalling the moment he replayed the play in his head. "I wanted to make darn sure it was the right call."

The delay aggravated the Hurricanes.

"If you're going to make the call, make it right away," linebacker D.J. Williams said. "The guy from the back called it late. I thought we had it won."

Gamble, of course, insisted Porter made the right call.

"He was holding me. He was in my facemask and my shoulder pads," Gamble said. "I was waiting for the flag, but he kind of hesitated. I didn't see him going for the flag and I thought, `He ain't going to throw it.' Luckily, he did, and I'm like, `whew."'

Security guards cleared the field. The throng of Ohio State fans roared at Sun Devil Stadium, and the Buckeyes got a first down at the Miami 2.

Three bruising plays later, Krenzel scored from inside the 1, and the conversion kick made it 24-24 and forced another overtime.

Maurice Clarett's 5-yard touchdown run pushed Ohio State to a 31-24 lead, Miami was stopped and the Buckeyes had the huge upset.

Hurricanes fans will forever remember that long stare from Porter, how he seemed to be thinking about what he'd seen, and whether to throw the flag. They will remember how quickly they went from elation to numbness to disbelief.

Television replays showed that Sharpe appeared to grab Gamble before the ball arrived. Miami fans surely will dispute that, as well as the national title that slipped away and the bizarre end to a 34-game winning streak.

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