Mike Smith has been Hampton's head coach for nearly four decades, from Nixon to Obama. And in that time, he's seen plenty.
But Friday night was a new one. Celebrating an apparent win over Lake Taylor in the Eastern Region Division 5 semifinals one minute, Hampton was swallowing bitter defeat the next.
A controversial call nullified what looked to be a 6-yard touchdown run by Kavon Bellamy that would have won the game in overtime for the Crabbers. The next morning, Smith wasn't mincing words.
"I don't know how they can sleep at night," Smith said of the officials. "Our guys are devastated. All we could do is tell them they played their hearts out and we're as proud of them as we can be.
"They won the game. They just didn't get the honor of carrying the banner away. It was taken away from them. I can say that, and I can back it up."
Video replay appears to back Smith's claim. With Lake Taylor leading 10-7 after its possession in overtime, Bellamy takes a pitch to the left side. Near the 2-yard line, he is met by Lake Taylor defenders.
As Bellamy keeps pushing forward, a scrum of Titan defenders and Hampton blockers develops. Bellamy then falls into the end zone by a good two yards. At least two officials from the Southeastern Football Officials Association signal a touchdown.
As the Crabbers celebrate and the Titans fall to the ground, whistles begin blowing. The line judge, on the home side of the field, rules Bellamy's forward progress has been stopped at the 2-yard line.
"He was 40 yards away," Smith said. "He said he stopped the play."
Hampton lost 5 yards on the next play, which was third down. Skyler Hutcheson's 24-yard field-goal attempt, which would have forced a second overtime, was blocked. Lake Taylor ended up with a disputed 10-7 win.
Titans coach Hank Sawyer said the call was correct, though he appeared to misunderstand the officials' ruling.
"That was aiding the runner right there," he told the Virginian-Pilot immediately after the game. "You can't do that in football. Bottom line is they got it right."
Had the officials ruled it was aiding the runner, it would have been a 5-yard penalty.
Phil Stenstrum, commissioner of the Southeastern Football Officials Association, said Saturday afternoon that he had spoken to all but one of the game's officials. Asked if he thought the call was correct, Stenstrum didn't give a direct answer.
"I've seen only the video on (television)," he said. "In both of those, it was a bad camera angle -- it was shot from an angle, not from the viewpoint the officials had. But from what I saw, the scrum stops and then there's another surge forward."
Tom Dolan, an assistant director with the Virginia High School League, said he saw the video on HRVarsity.com.
"Looking at the raw footage, it looks pretty continuous to me," he said of Bellamy's forward progress. "But without knowing the officials' conversation, that doesn't provide me with enough to weigh in.
"Obviously, the guy on the far side saw something that made him make the call he did. But from the (opposite) angle, it's impossible to tell (what it was). It is unfortunate when games have to end like that."
Dolan said there is no official protest in this case.
"There's no appeals process unless there's a breach of the VHSL Handbook," he said. "What could happen is that the video will become part of a clinic."
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