Sunday, January 5, 2003

Ref says he just wanted to be right

The Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - Referee Terry Porter would rather be late than wrong.

Porter's critical pass-interference call as Miami players were celebrating what they thought was another national championship cleared the way for Ohio State's tying touchdown in overtime of the Fiesta Bowl on Friday night.

In the far corner of the end zone, Porter waited for what seemed an eternity before throwing the flag after Craig Krenzel's fourth-down pass fell to the turf for what appeared to be the end of the game.

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

The Big 12 Conference official long since had signaled an incomplete pass on fourth down, triggering Miami's celebration.

Then the Buckeyes went on to a 31-24 upset, and the Hurricanes faithful were left muttering about what almost was.

"I did not have a chance to see the call. ... Obviously on fourth down and long, it was a huge, huge play in the game," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "You hate for an official to have to make that call. You would like it to be a legitimate call."

The Hurricanes' Sean Taylor already had thrown his helmet into the desert sky in triumph but had to pick it up and go back on the field.

"Officials make the calls," Taylor said. "That wasn't a turning point. We should have never been in that position."

Not all the Hurricanes were so understanding.

"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."

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."

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."

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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