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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Upon Further Review, Coach Says Referee Blew the Call

September 05, 1991|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI

Memo to those hoping to ask East Carolina Coach Bill Lewis about the NCAA's flagrant taunting rule: Don't.

Lewis is still a bit steamed about a 15-yard penalty called on one of his players for allegedly making an obscene gesture after East Carolina's recovery of an onside kick against Illinois last Saturday. According to a statement issued by Lewis, the officials simply blew the crucial call.

The naughty gesture toward the Illinois bench allegedly was made with 1:46 remaining in the game and the Pirates trailing, 38-31. East Carolina trimmed a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to seven points and was in excellent position to drive for a tying or winning score after the onside kick.

That was before East Carolina's Clayton Driver, who recovered the kick, was flagged for flagrant taunting, better known as the "Miami Rule," in honor of the Hurricanes' despicable manners against Texas in the last Cotton Bowl game. Instead of first and 10 on its 46, East Carolina wound up with first and 25 on its 31. The drive and comeback died shortly thereafter.

"After reviewing the films of the onside kick, it is clearly evident that there was no taunting of the Illinois players or bench area and absolutely no obscene gesture made," Lewis said. "In looking at the various angles we have, we can account for all 11 players. I challenge anyone to watch the film and see where there were any gestures made or taunting of anyone on the Illinois team or in their bench area. In my opinion, it was an extremely poor call."

Driver has since told East Carolina coaches that the only thing he did after recovering the ball was yell, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" That's it.

Illinois Coach John Mackovic said he didn't see Driver's alleged gesture, nor did he witness any unsportsmanlike conduct by East Carolina players. After reviewing tape of the play, Mackovic did say: "There were a number of (Pirate) players demonstrating in our team area."

Demonstrating or celebrating? Thanks to Miami's performance, game officials have been told to let the flags fly if any sort of taunting--real or imagined--occurs.

"The fact is that it was a tightened rule this year," Mackovic said. "(The officials) were told to make note of it and make these calls."

Tell it to Lewis, who was gracious enough to note that his team had two earlier chances to score inside the Illinois 20-yard line but failed each time.

Of course, get this: In Miami's game against Arkansas Saturday, Razorback players were the ones taunting the Hurricanes. No penalties were assessed, but the referee told the Arkansas players to knock it off, or else.

Apparently, the Hurricanes were near angelic in their 31-3 victory. Maybe the Miami players actually listened to the preseason lectures they received from Big East Conference referees. The subject: Do's and don'ts of the NCAA taunting rule.

As a result of USC's mind-boggling Labor Day loss to Memphis State (Memphis State?) , the phrase, On any given Monday . . . now has meaning.

How stunning was the defeat? Purdue Coach Jim Colletto nearly swallowed his whistle when he heard the news.

"If we all sat in this room (and picked the winner), there wouldn't have been anybody who would have bet on Memphis State," he said. "And if they did, they would have called the white-coat guys."

The final score caught everyone by surprise, including St. Louis Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon, whose radio network stretches into the Memphis area. He interrupted his Monday broadcast with news of the Tiger upset.

So important was the victory that when the Memphis State team arrived home at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, a crowd of about 100 fans, many of them carrying rain-soaked banners and signs, stood happily in the foul weather to greet the Tigers. All of the local television stations sent crews, too. And when the Memphis State ticket office opened that morning, a line of customers spilled out of the lobby and partly around the building.

Of course, that's nothing compared to what was going on at the Liberty Bowl, where Memphis State plays its games. Ticket buyers were lined up a quarter of the way around the stadium. Before the Memphis State victory, about 50,000 seats had been sold for its home opener against Mississippi. Now, ticket officials are expecting a sellout crowd of 62,380.

Determined to take advantage of every precious nanosecond of television air time possible, Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger has prepared a show to remember, which will be shown when his team plays 11th-ranked Tennessee tonight at Cardinals Stadium.

Among those expected to appear at the game are the nationally renowned Louisville Orchestra--attired, of course, in tuxedo T-shirts; former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali; Johnny Unitas, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and Louisville alumnus; Paul Hornung, the NFL Hall of Fame running back and local hero; Olympic swimmer Mary T. Meagher, and golfers Jodie Mudd and Fuzzy Zoeller.

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