Coach, kicker & official reflect on Cottonwood High’s rare, game-winning play
MURRAY, Utah — Three days after an unlikely play centered around a little-known rule resulted in a late victory for Cottonwood High School’s football team, the coach, kicker and an official were reflecting on what unfolded.
Cottonwood defeated Jordan High School, 25-24, on Friday after the Colts attempted and converted a free kick for three points with 12 seconds left following a fair catch on a punt.
Coach Casey Miller said he had always had his teams practice the free kick play, though it had rarely ever been used in football.
According to fair catch rules found in the National Federation of State High School Associations football rule book, “the captain may choose to free kick or snap anywhere between the hash marks: (a) on the yard line through the spot of the catch when a fair catch is made.”
Fair catch, free kick?
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“Most of the kids think I’m just making stuff up,” Miller laughed as he recalled previous conversations with his players. “I’m like, ‘This is the rule.’ ‘No, it’s not!’”
Miller said the decision was hatched against Jordan as the Colts navigated back from a 24-16 deficit with three minutes remaining. The team still had three timeouts left following a touchdown and failed two-point conversion that closed the gap to 24-22.
The coach said rather than an onside kick, he made the decision to kick the ball deep and try to pin Jordan back while using his timeouts.
The strategy worked following a series of negative result plays that included a penalty and sack, pinning Jordan at the five-yard line and forcing a punt.
“At that point, I’m sold — ‘We’re doing it,’” Miller said. “I’ve never seen a chance to do this play in my life. If it’s not going to happen now, it will never happen in my lifetime.”
A fair catch was made and Cottonwood came out in a free kick formation for kicker Ryan Nielson.
Miller said on his previous timeout call he warned an official that’s what his plan was.
“He didn’t believe me at first because he’s been doing it for I don’t remember how long, but he’s like, ‘I’ve never seen it,’” Miller recalled in an interview with KSL TV. “I said, ‘Well, here it comes, so be ready for it because I’m sure you’re going to have to explain to a lot of people what’s going on.’”
Neilson booted the free kick 47 yards through the uprights, giving Cottonwood three points and a 25-24 lead, which the team preserved through the final remaining seconds.
“I mean the first time I’d ever heard of it was the first time I practiced it,” Nielson said. “A couple yards before it went in, I just started celebrating because I knew it was in.”
Back judge Richard Lamoreaux told KSL TV he was only familiar with the play through the rulebook.
“(I) never had it come up — only on a test,” he laughed.
The win improved the Colts’ record to 2-6.
“We got a big shot in the arm after that kick went in,” Miller said.
He said he was grateful all the preparation his team put in for the rarely-called play resulted in a win and an important lesson.
“We don’t quit — we keep fighting,” Miller said. “All you can do is try to win the next play.”
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