Published: 1:00 pm, Fri. Feb. 24th, 2017
In a decision rendered at the annual NFHS Football Rules Committee meeting Jan. 20-22 in Indianapolis and announced by the NFHS Thursday, Rule 7-1-6 regarding encroachment after the snapper has placed his hands on the ball was amended to make swiping at the ball and/or hands of the snapper prior to the completion of the snap illegal.
The decision was well-received in Artesia, which became the inspiration for the rule change following the now-infamous Oct. 28, 2016, game between the Bulldog football team and Goddard at Wool Bowl in Roswell.
The ‘Dogs were up 35-34 and had just secured what appeared to be a game-ending interception with 30 seconds remaining on the clock. But as they attempted victory formation to take a knee, Rocket defensive tackle Misael Zaragoza began swiping at the ball before it could be snapped by Artesia center Jarod Acosta.
The act was illegal according to NFHS rules as they stood, as Zaragoza violated the neutral zone on each attempt. As such, Goddard was whistled five consecutive times for encroachment. But on the sixth attempt, the officiating crew inexplicably allowed Zaragoza to slap the ball out of Acosta’s hands, awarding the Rockets a fumble and, ultimately, a 37-35 victory on a late field goal.
The New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) later reviewed the game, with an outside collegiate official determining Goddard was, in fact, offsides on their sixth attempt to swipe the ball, as well.
But particularly after the Rockets attempted the same tactic the following week against Roswell High, prompting outcry from coaches around the state and beyond regarding the issue of sportsmanship, the NMAA elected to go one step further and petition the NFHS to expand its rule.
Rule 7-1-6 now reads that not only has encroachment occurred if a player breaks the plane of the neutral zone but “defensive players are restricted from contacting the ball prior to the end of the snap or making contact with the snapper’s hand(s) or arm(s) until the snapper has released the ball.”
“We’re really pleased that our state association was able to get a change to the federation so quickly and that it was passed that quickly,” Artesia Athletic Director Cooper Henderson said today.
Often, changes to the NFHS rule book can take years to implement; this one took less than three months, a credit, Henderson says, to the swift response of the NMAA.