It was one of the strangest touchdowns anyone on the field or in the stands will ever see. Early in the 4th quarter of U.N.I.’s second round playoff win over Wofford on Saturday, the Panthers had just taken a 21-14 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, the Wofford returner caught the ball at the goal line, drifted back into his own endzone, and just stood there.
He didn’t down the football, he didn’t attempt a return, he just thought the play was over. But U.N.I.’s coverage team kept playing. Zac Cutkomp slapped the ball out of the Wofford player’s hands, and after it lay on the turf for a few seconds, U.N.I.’s Phil Wright jumped on it for a score.
That made it 28-14 in favor of the Panthers, who would eventually win 28-21. Wright says he knew the play was still alive, but it took a second before he realized that six points were just laying there on the ground. “It took a couple of seconds, then it hits, you don’t expect that, you don’t expect that to happen,” Wright says.
Panther quarterback Tirrell Rennie says that when the players on the sideline realized what had happened, there was a big reaction. Rennie says everyone was asking “did that really just happen” and everyone on the sideline was jumping up and down.
U.N.I. coach Mark Farley says it was an incredibly smart play, and the biggest challenge for him was making sure the referees called it right. Farley says it was “headsy” to knock the ball out instead of tackling the ball as he says in high school football the ball is called down, but in college you have to down it or hand the ball to the official.
U.N.I. advances to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs despite being outgained by more than a two-to-one ratio. But Farley says the only stat that matters is the final score. “I could care less, at the end of the day, all it is is a win,” according to Farley.
The Panthers will face 4th seeded Montana in Missoula on Friday night at 7:00. The game will be televised nationwide on ESPN2.
By Jesse Gavin, KCNZ, Cedar Falls