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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON PAC-10 FOOTBALL

Coaches fear a freaky Saturday

There's nothing worse than a bizarre play deciding a game, as happened in Washington-Arizona.

October 14, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

League coaches, control freaks that they are, watched in horror Saturday night when Washington defeated Arizona, 36-33, on an intercepted pass that deflected off an Arizona receiver's foot.

"That," Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday during a Pacific 10 Conference football coaches' media call, "was a minor miracle."

Washington's Mason Foster picked the carom off Delashaun Dean's size-14 1/2 Nike cleat and raced 37 yards for the winning score. Dean has vowed never to wear the shoe again.

How do you game plan for that?

"It's my worst nightmare," Oregon State Coach Mike Riley said.

Oregon Coach Chip Kelly arrived home in Eugene after his Ducks defeated UCLA in Pasadena and watched the end of Arizona-Washington on television. "I was kind of like, 'Wow,' " Kelly said.

The coaches all knew: There but for the grace of football gods, and the instant replay booth, go we.

"I can't imagine," Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson said of how Arizona Coach Mike Stoops must have felt losing a game like that. "I've never seen anything like it in my life."

It's the kind of play that can define the season -- for the winner and the loser.

Washington is 3-3 instead of 2-4 and 2-1 in Pac-10 play instead of 1-2. Arizona, looking to go to 4-1 with a victory, is now 3-2 with Stanford coming to Tucson on Saturday. Stoops says his team has no choice but to move on after the "Immaculate Deflection" in Seattle. "You've got to let it go," Stoops said. "You've got to. You can't hold on to it or it will devastate you."

Dean, the receiver, insists the ball hit the ground. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field and the replay booth needed "indisputable evidence" to overturn the call.

The play is there for anyone to deconstruct on YouTube, and watching it over and over it's hard to believe the ball didn't hit the turf.

"There was not enough evidence there to be indisputable," Verle Sorgen, the Pac-10's director of instant replay, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

It gets tricky when you ask Sorgen what "indisputable" means.

"It isn't precise," he said. "It's certainly more than reasonable doubt, which the courts use. For want of a better analogy, if we have 100 guys who are knowledgeable football people looking at a play, there may be close to being 100% agreeing that it happened this way."

Of course, you don't have time to convene 100 experts during a replay review. One problem with the college replay system, unlike the NFL, is that not all stadiums have the same number of cameras. There were only four camera angles to consider in Husky Stadium.

A grainy cellphone photo of the play, which appears to show the ball hitting the turf, is being dissected on the Internet by Arizona fans in this latest mystery of Big Foot.

"I don't think we can use still photos to prove much of anything in instant replay," Sorgen said. "You can find still photo of a pass that was in a receiver's hands. That doesn't mean it was caught."

So this is where the official argument ends, with the final score sealed in cement as Pac-10 coaches toss and turn knowing next time it could happen to them.

Riley still has flashbacks of a near miss he had in 1992 when he was coaching the San Antonio Riders in the World League.

"One time we were taking a knee, basically sealing a win in a victory formation," Riley recounted. "Our center snapped the ball low to our quarterback and he kicked it through the defensive line and their safety ended up with the ball. And here he is running down the sidelines with seconds ticking off the clock . . . ducks out of bounds as the clock expired.

"I was thankful it was a home game because I think the guy let it go to zero; otherwise they're kicking a field goal to win the game."

Of note

* Washington's announcement that it will play Eastern Washington next year leaves three major college programs that have never scheduled a game against a I-AA opponent: USC, UCLA and Notre Dame. The I-AA classification, now known as Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), was created in 1978.

* The Pac-10 has three nonconference games remaining, all against Notre Dame. USC plays in South Bend this weekend. Notre Dame hosts Washington State on Oct. 31 and the Irish close the season at Stanford on Nov. 28.

* Arizona State's Erickson is "probable" for Washington this week after getting bowled over last weekend at Washington State by one of his own players: "I was a little sore," the coach confessed. "It was a pretty good hit. I'm fine now."

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresneLATimes

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