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Instant Replay Makes Debut at High School Football State Championships

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by Nate Olson

Before Jarius Wright was a star wide receiver at Arkansas and played in the NFL, he was involved in one of the most controversial plays in Arkansas high school football history.

Warren and Nashville were playing for the 2006 Class 4A state championship at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The instant classic had gone into double overtime, and Warren had just scored and trailed by one. Warren Coach Bo Hembree had moved Wright to quarterback to take the shotgun snap and called for a sneak. Wright dove to the goal line but was ruled short, and Nashville secured the win.

It didn’t take long for tape and still photos to circulate that appeared to show Wright crossed the goal line. Hembree and Wright are still adamant that he crossed the line, and the play is a sore subject in Bradley County.

Many wondered what would have happened had the play been reviewed? Fans won’t have to wonder that if such a play occurs during the opening weekend of high school state championships. Instant replay will make its debut for the Class 7A, 6A and 5A games Friday and Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.

The Arkansas Activities Association announced details Monday regarding replay. Coaches will have one challenge to use at any time and must call a timeout to initiate the challenge. If the challenge is successful, the coach will keep the challenge and the timeout. If a coach does not have a timeout he cannot challenge, and if he challenges a play that is not eligible for review, he will lose the timeout.

Two Arkansas high school officials in the booth will review the plays with the help of video technicians and can call for replays as well.

The replay officials can automatically review turnover or potential turnover, score or potential score and an ejection for a physical act at any point during the game.

In the final two minutes of regulation or overtime the following will be automatically reviewed:

  • Determine if a player was inbounds or out of bounds.
  • Determine if there was a catch.
  • Determine possession of the ball.
  • Determine spots that affect the line to gain.
  • Determine whether a free kick or pass was touched.
  • Determine whether a kick traveled 10 yards.
  • Determine whether a pass was a legal or illegal forward pass.

“I really think we will look through this weekend, and we will only have one or two reviews overall,” Searcy Coach Mark Kelley, whose team plays Benton in the Class 6A title game, told Fox 16. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. We are just excited. I think all of the coaches are just excited there’s a chance to get it right. We have great officials in this state, but everyone makes mistakes especially with a game that is played so fast. It’s great that we have that option.”

The announcement is certainly a game changer. Covering prep football in Arkansas for more than 20 years, I’ve seen several plays in big games that most likely would have been overturned. Especially, during my three years covering games for 103.7 the Buzz on the sidelines where I got a front-row seat, literally. Kelley is right – it’s difficult to get every play correct with the action moving so fast.

I’ll be back on the sidelines for The Buzz this weekend, and I’ll be studying this carefully. Even with replay, this has the potential to be controversial because even with replay plays sometimes are still not overturned because of a variety of reasons.  Running this out during games of this magnitude is a risk, but I applaud the AAA for making an effort. There is a lot of pressure on the booth officials, who have never made these rulings before, to make the correct call. What if the first review of the night came on a play such as Wright’s where the game was in the balance? That’s tough.

It will also be interesting to see how coaches adjust their strategy. They must make sure they have timeouts available to challenge a call and assess if a play is worth a challenge. That is all brand-new to all coaches.

“We watch it on TV, and they know when to throw that red flag out there, and now we have to do that,” Bryant Coach Buck James told Fox 16. I am sort of nervous about that because I don’t want to go ahead and shoot it out there, and all of a sudden, it’s a blank.”

The Wright call will always be debated. Kudos to the AAA for taking a precaution from keeping such a debate from occurring again.

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