Each of these plays below should take about 2 min to watch and read about the rules, mechanics and philosophy application. None of us are immune to making mistakes, as hard as we try not to. This page is in no way intended to single out any official or crew, it is simply to help us learn from each other. Taking in 2 minutes of training will help you master your craft.
Rule 9-1 states it is a foul for a teammate to "push, pull, or lift the runner to assist his forward progress". HS coaches are notorious copycats. They watch football on Sat and Sun just like the rest of us and when they see a successful play they often will mimic it. This is a play made famous by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022 when they ran it with success many times in short yardage situations. However, NFL, NCAA, and NFHS rule codes are vastly different. While it is legal in HS to push the pile, it is not legal to directly push the runner. This 2 play set shows exactly that. This is the same team in successive weeks, using the same formation with 2 backs directly behind the QB under center, who push the runner directly in the back. This is not "pushing the pile". This is attempting to get an unfair advantage and is a foul. If the calling official (most likely the referee) is in doubt whether it is a pile push or assisting the runner, he should not call a foul. These two plays leave no doubt however. Play 1 is at the B-1 and play 2 is a 4th and 1 situation.
Scroll further down on this page for an example of pulling the runner.
The left tackle and center commit a dangerous chop block on the defensive tackle that is missed by the crew. It appears that the left tackle is trying to cut block the linebacker shooting the gap and misses, hitting the defensive tackle. This is a foul and we must be vigilant to get these dangerous blocks. Just because the intent to foul likely wasn't there doesn't mean it's not a foul. Unfortunately the player getting blocked suffered a leg fracture on this play and is out for the rest of the season. While calling the foul would not have prevented this injury, it is something for us to get better at, and we must. The NNFOA wishes this player a speedy and healthy recovery.
Also there is a quite obvious takedown hold on the edge of the play that springs the runner that goes unnoticed by the H.
First, we must recognize that NCAA rules and NFHS rules are different, sometimes by quite a bit. Targeting was called on this play (auto review in NCAA) and was properly overturned by the replay official. It validates how difficult it is to get targeting calls right in real time 100% of the time, even by experienced college officials.
Let's review NFHS rule 9-4-3(g) "No player shall make any other contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness". 9-4-3(m) prohibits targeting (defined in Rule 2-20). The NCAA does not have a rule similar to 9-4-3(g). Under NCAA code it's targeting or nothing. In 2023, NFHS code (2-32-16) was modified to include a receiver in the act of or just after catching or attempting to catch a pass as "defenseless", and protected from forceful contact unless the contact was a result of (1) playing the ball, or (2) intiated with open hands, or (3) a wrap style tackle attempt by the defender.
This hit by Georgia #22 is forceful contact, and none of the 3 exceptions above are met and would be a personal foul if it was in high school. As officials we need to change our mindset from is it targeting to was the player defenseless, was the contact forceful, and were any of the 3 exceptions met. If you notice the targeting aspect as well, then great, call it targeting as you should, but the argument here is any targeting foul or close to targeting will almost always meet the definition of 9-4-3(g) also, which is much easier to rule on. We must protect our student athletes for the health of the players and the good of the game.
Side note: OSU WR Marvin Harrison Jr. was likely concussed on this play and didn't return. If you take a second look you'll notice that his mouthpiece was out and dangling the entire play. This has been a trend in both the NFL and NCAA for several years where officials have not enforced equipment regulations. HS athletes want to mimic what they see on Sat and Sun. Could Harrison's concussion have been prevented had he worn his mouthpiece properly? We will never know. OSU's star WR was knocked out and Georgia came back to win. More importantly, Harrison suffered a serious injury. As officials we have a duty to protect the athletes from "style" trends like this that put them at risk. If a player's mouthpiece is out, it's time to sit out a play so he can fix it's "defectiveness".
"If something crazy happens, it's usually a kicking play". This has been a truism known by officials since the game was invented. This is a college play but many of the same concepts and mechanics apply to high school. Force (called 'impetus' in NCAA) is defined in Rule 2-13. It is a concept that many officials struggle with, primarily because these plays are very rare. The definition of a muff, Rule 2-27, is also important on this play.
Keep in mind D1 crews are 9 strong and enjoy the presence of a Center Judge, and a replay official who are critical to helping rule on this play. We don't have that luxury. Imagine this was a HS game. The R is likely the only person who will be in position to rule on this. Questions the R must process quickly: What force puts the ball in the end zone? is the contact of the loose ball by the defense (Army) a factor, or is it disregarded? Why? There are two major lines to cover on this play, first the goal line, then the end line. How does the R get in position to rule on both in that amount of time? When is possession gained? What factors are important to see so close to the end line? It is easy to see why we as officials must be agile and athletic as possible, as the game can move quickly as it does here.
This crew did an excellent job covering and ruling on this extremely challenging play. Athleticism, superior mechanics, and mastery of rules and philosophies will help you get ready to rule on surprise plays such as these.
NFHS code does not have a specific "Hands to the face" personal foul like the NCAA does. However 9-2-1a and 9-2-3a prohibit "using a blocking technique not permitted by rule as in 2-3-2 and 2-3-5". Rule 2-3-2 says that a blocker's hands must be inside the frame of the body and the frame of the body is defined at the shoulders or below other than the back (also note the runner is excepted from 9-2-1). Watch the actions of B60, the left defensive tackle on this play. He gets two hands into the opponent's face then follows up with a sustained push against the face mask with an open hand. This was not noticed by the Umpire but this is an illegal use of hands foul. It is a 10 yard penalty, signal 42 (same signal as holding). Had he grabbed and twisted or pulled on the face mask it would be a major face mask foul, 15 yards.
Under the 2023 change in the basic spot for foul enforcement on running plays in rule 10-4, it states fouls behind the LOS by EITHER Team A and B will be enforced from the previous spot (with a few exceptions). The end of the run is the A-36. This would have been the enforcement spot in 2022. The previous spot is the A-39. Under the new rule, the foul would be enforced from here.
Foul enforcement is always a crew responsibility, and with a major new rule change like this one, every crew member must give added focus to ensure we get it right!
In 5 official mechanics, wings should hold their position at the LOS until the pass is thrown. This allows them to be settled and rule properly on short zone passes. This is a close play, and the LJ applies excellent mechanics, judgement, and philosophy to rule this an incomplete pass. Our "when in doubt" philosophy on catch/fumble or incomplete is to rule incomplete (Nevada Football Manual, Appendix B). Although the receiver does catch the ball and has control for a split second, there is not a "football move" or element of time long enough for possession to be established. Therefore the correct call is incomplete.
Knowing this is a close play, the LJ sells his call strongly, giving 3 swipes instead of the usual 1 swipe. This is a superbly officiated play that helps generate credibility and confidence in the crew by spectators, players, and coaches.
The Umpire position can be the most rewarding on a crew. However it takes intestinal fortitude and a true love of the game to master. Many officials simply refuse to step into the "eye of the hurricane" and would rather work perimeter positions, and that's okay. Those that take on this responsibility, do much more than merely spot the ball. The umpire commands the field and controls the tempo of the game. They are rewarded with an intimate involvement in the game that cannot be duplicated. The best "war stories" of officiating usually involve the Umpire.
Elite umpires are athletic, and must move like a cat from sideline to sideline. They are excellent communicators, policing the pile with their presence and voice. Notice on this play the Umpire set and ready for the snap; when the play is over you see him go to the pile quickly, talking to the players the entire time. The Umpire's presence and demeanor is the biggest single factor in keeping players from "crossing the line" with each other, or allowing shenanigans to happen which make for a long, arduous game.
Umpires must be masters of the rules, ensuring proper rulings and foul enforcement. Although the Referee is the face of the crew, the crew's efficiency and success or lack thereof rests in large part on the Umpire's performance. The NNFOA is fortunate to have several umpires that aspire to this calling, and are always looking for a few more good men or women to take on the role and meet the standard set by Andrew Siderius, who was taken from us much too soon.
Do you have what it takes to be the Man in the Middle?
Forward progress spots are a very basic, yet critical part of officiating football. It truly is the essence of the game: One team trying to move the ball forward and the opponent trying to stop them. When we use the term "double action", we are referring to the action after the ball is legally dead.
This is a two play clip showing both wing officials properly NOT granting double action progress. The first is a long run where the runner is down just prior to the B-40, then has a "double action" slide to the B-38. The LJ properly kills the clock for the first down and marks the spot at the 40 (we are not going to spot the ball for a new series between the tick marks so this is proper). He doesn't give the runner the extra 2 yards he didn't earn. On the second play, the runner is stopped at the B-43 behind the LOS and driven backwards, landing at the B-46. The HL spots the ball at the B-43, where progress was stopped, not granting the defense the extra 3 yards they didn't earn.
Many wing officials simply go to where the ball ends up, granting double action play, probably because it's easy to do, taking less concentration and effort. The superior wing official will pride himself/herself on accurate spots, giving the runner or defense all that was earned and no more.
Great job by both of these wing officials on these 2 plays, not only properly marking progress but showing excellent dead ball mechanics.
Do you think being a back judge in 5 man mechanics is easy? Think again! When the back judge is in play, he is often marooned on an island with no chance of rescue. This is a good and experienced back judge who got trapped by sloppy footwork and poor presnap positioning. His key is the #3 receiver on the top (we count from the sideline in). The mistake here is he faces his key and his hips are not square to the line of scrimmage at the snap, and he is also flat footed. As a back judge you must "defend the field" from sideline to sideline. His key is not "pressed" so first read should be the QB. High school QBs are unsophisticated and lock on to their primary target. This happens immediately after the snap on this play and is obvious by how the QB turns his hips and shoulders to the isolated receiver at the bottom.
Here, primarily due to his presnap positioning and footwork, the BJ recognizes the play late and never catches up. He is moving when the catch is made and should be settled on the end line to make this call. The WR makes a good catch in the corner with one foot in and possession of the ball, but is ruled incomplete and out of the endzone. On the plus side, the BJ sells his call hard, even though he's incorrect. "If you're wrong, be wrong strong".
Back Judge--not for the faint of heart!
Watch the actions of the QB on this play. 7-1-7-b says it is a false start if "any act is clearly intended to cause B to encroach". The first slight body movement I think we can all agree is nothing, but what about the second, more exaggerated body hitch and shoulder dip? Does this rise to the level of calling a false start foul on the QB? This is the Referee's call. The wing officials should not be looking at the QB, but are focused on the line--they properly rule encroachment. However if the R judges this to be a false start, he can and should overrule the wing official. This is admittedly close to that threshold. Whether it crosses the line is up to the R. If the R rules this to be legal, certainly a warning is in order here.
On kickoffs, Rule 6-1-3a says no K player (except for the kicker or holder) may be beyond K's restraining line until the ball is kicked. The restraining line is a vertical plane, like the goal line. Think of it as a window pane. A violation is a 5 yard dead ball foul for encroachment. Here it appears that player 5 (we count them 1-5 from sideline going to middle) on the L's side has his knee/leg over the line as the ball is kicked and the L calls a foul. This was the opening kickoff of the game.
However, while technically a foul by rule, this call is improper due to our philosophy. Our philosophy is on deep kickoffs, do NOT call a foul for encroachment until the player has at least one foot down 1 yard into the neutral zone. On plays like this, keep the flag in your pocket. Now, had it been an onside or short pooch kick, the philosophy changes--in that case any player who "breaks the window pane" prior to the kick should be called for a foul, as he is gaining an unfair advantage in trying to recover the kick.
It has been said "don't let the rules get in the way of the game"...applying officiating philosophies properly helps us do that.
A list of officiating philosophies is found in Appendix A of the Nevada State Football Manual. Check it out.
Watch the actions of R52. He is the player at the bottom lined up at the R-48. On a kickoff, we have 5 officials to watch 22 players spread all over the field running at full speed. It is exceedingly difficult. When the play collapses to one side as it does here, it makes it even more so. It is unknown why both of these fouls were missed, but it often occurs when we are too focused on the ball carrier and not what is going on around him. Certainly 1 official is usually on the ball carrier, unless he is completely in space. We must be disciplined to know when to turn our attention to the ball and trust our crew to each officiate his/her area. The exact spot on the return is not all that important, getting these safety fouls is.
The first hit was a possible illegal blindside block (it's difficult to see if the block was initiated with open hands or not from the camera angle), the second is a flagrant targeting foul worthy of disqualification. The near side coaching staff was understandably upset that these were missed. Unfortunately we will miss fouls like this from time to time. If we adhere to our mechanics and focus on our zones of responsibilty however, those instances become rarer.
Focus on the movement, or more precisely the lack of movement by the HL on this play. In 5 man mechanics on pass play officials cover zones. A Wing Official's zone is from the LOS to 15 yards downfield. Typically, many high school wing officials move too early on pass plays. Staying put at the line of scrimmage until the pass is released allows for steady eyes and more accurate rulings. The short zone can easily be officiated from the LOS. (Keep in mind 4 official mechanics are different because there is no BJ). On this play, a 10-12 yard "out" pass to the sideline the HL holds his position properly, then when pass is released he spins 90 degrees and straddles the sideline. He is in perfect position to rule on this tight catch at the sideline, then immediately kills the clock while marking the progress spot. Excellent, grade A officiating here.
Excellence at Back Judge is more often art than science, and it is mastery of the nuances of the position that distinguish superior BJs from the others. Here the ball is snapped at the B-30. Our BJ reads pass and backpedals as he is pressed by 2 receivers. He stays ahead of the play and starts to settle himself as much as possible for the "moment of truth". He is in perfect position mechanically to rule on this difficult play at the end line. It appears that the receiver gains possession airborne and his left foot lands barely inside the end line prior to his other foot landing out of bounds and going to the ground. The BJ waits until the entire process of the catch is complete, maintaining possession of the ball while surviving contact with the ground, then properly ruling TD. This is a superbly officiated play both mechanically and judgement-wise. We don't want to rush these signals, and the properly delayed, confident signal creates a measured dramatic flair which is good for the game.
This clip shows both sideline and end zone views. The decision on whether the QB throws an incomplete pass or fumbles the ball rests 100% with the Referee. Rule 2-31-2 defines a forward pass. On this play, the action is mistakenly ruled a fumble. Since the QB's arm was clearly going forward when the ball came loose, this is a forward pass. The Referee should be strong and emphatic on this ruling and signal. The Umpire, not hearing a whistle or the Referee yelling "Incomplete!" covers the spot and sells the call of fumble recovered by the defense. No fault of the Umpire here, as he must go with the Referee's ruling and really shouldn't have any input on the pass/fumble aspect.
There doesn't appear to be much doubt about this play, and it may be the result of the Referee looking elsewhere or losing focus somehow. However, if there is any doubt at all, employing our philosophy will usually bail us out. The philosophy that applies here is when in doubt as to forward pass or fumble, rule it a forward pass. "When in doubt, wipe it out". Changing the call late in this case, while not ideal, would have been proper. The important thing is to get the call right and not give the defense a turnover not earned. A complete list of officiating philosophies is listed in Appendix A and B of the NIAA Nevada State Football Manual.
Block in back fouls are among the most common incorrectly called by officials. To properly consider this action, we must become familiar with the concept of "chase mode". Chase Mode has to do with the approach angle of the blocker to the blockee, (or suspect to victim if you prefer). Imagine looking at a player from above, and putting a clock face on the ground around him. His nose would be at 12:00, left shoulder 9:00, right shoulder 3:00 and his rear end 6:00. A blocker is approaching from chase mode when his approach angle to the victim is between 4:00 and 8:00. If a player is blocked from this position in the back, it is a foul (unless the free blocking zone exception applies). If he is blocked from any other position, it is NOT a block in the back. It could be a different foul such as an illegal blindside block, but not an IBB. Officials often see the fall of the player but not the approach of the block and throw a flag improperly. If you did not see the two steps before the block and did not judge it to be from Chase Mode, keep the flag in your pocket. Remember our "when in doubt" axioms from the NIAA Football Manual: when in doubt as to whether the block was in the back or from the side, rule it to be from the side.
On this play the QB keeps the ball and runs down the sideline. A13 overruns his opponent and tries to catch up and blocks B20. However the last two steps are from B20's 9:00 position. The LJ is properly trailing the play and throws a foul for an IBB, but the block was a legal block from the side. A second flag comes in from the Umpire. Both flags are incorrect calls.
Further, there is a second reason not to throw this flag. Let's presume the block was from the 8:00 position and thus a block in the back from Chase Mode. The official must also evaluate the impact on the play. We officiate based on advantage/disadvantage philosophy. The block was made at the B-21 and the runner stepped out of bounds at the B-23. The block created no advantage whatsoever as it was ahead of the end of the play. On potential live ball action, pause briefly when evaluating an action to allow your brain to process all the information, then decide. Slow flags are almost always more accurate than quick ones for live ball fouls.
Think Chase Mode, think impact on play, and your IBB calls will be correct ones.
Helping the Runner is a foul listed in 9-1. Currently the rule says simply "An offensive player shall not push, pull, or lift the runner to assist his forward progress." Although this is a rarely called foul, it does not mean it should never be called. Officiating philosophy currently across the nation is not to call a foul for "pushing" the pile from behind, because it is too difficult to discern assistance of forward progress from legitimate legal blocking, and under Advantage vs. Disadvantage officiating philosophy the advantage gained is not always clear. However on this play, there is a clear pull of the runner by a teammate (the right guard) at the A-49, that clearly assists the runner's forward progress (and helps him make the line to gain,= unfair advantage gained). This is an assisting the runner foul. Further, towards the end of the play, a second teammate positions himself in front of the runner and pulls him forward again. Both of these are fouls, and by their very nature are always behind the basic spot and therefore enforced from the spot of the foul -5 yards.
Neither of these fouls were called. It is difficult for our brain to process something we are not used to or rarely see when we officiate games. Assisting the runner falls into that category certainly, and is likely a reason why this was missed. Superior rules knowledge, proper mechanics, and laser beam focus during the action will give you the confidence to make this unusual and rare call. UPDATE: Helping the Runner is a "Point of Emphasis" in the 2023 NFHS Rule Book
Crew communication: Essential requirement for intentional grounding calls
Intentional Grounding is a multiple official call.
The Referee must decide several things on this play very quickly. Was the pass thrown to conserve yardage? Yes. Was the QB out of the pocket? No. Did the contact by the defender affect the flight of the ball? Well let's discuss that. If a passer is already in his throwing motion when he is contacted by the defender, such as striking the passer's arm or body and affecting his follow through, then certainly that should enter into the Referee's judgement and he should give the benefit of the doubt to the passer and not call a foul. However, if the passer is already in the grasp of the defender when he starts his throwing motion, as is the case here, no such leeway should be given. Under this circumstance it is completely the responsibility of the passer to get the ball near an eligible receiver, or if outside the pocket, to the line of scrimmage. On this play the QB does neither. All these elements of the foul rest with the Referee to decide.
However the foul is not complete yet, or at least the information to put it together isn't. The Referee cannot and should not know the last element of the foul, namely if an eligible receiver was in the area or if the pass made it to the LOS if the passer was out of the pocket. That information rests with his crewmates. 90+% of the time it is a wing official who makes that part of the call, but the Umpire and sometimes the BJ can help. On this play the ball lands very near the Umpire who is looking at the ball. One officlal, somebody, anybody, even the BJ, needs to immediately come in person to report this information to the Referee. Without that information no foul can be called. With it, assuming the prior elements discussed above are there, the Referee, and only the Referee, shall drop a late flag at the spot of the pass (end of run) and announce the foul, which is -5 yards and loss of down.
On this play, no information was given and no foul was called. Good crew communication is paramount to a well officiated game.