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UNC vs. Cal: On California's late-game penalties

Carolina was in position to make things interesting. Cal wouldn’t let that happen.

California v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Cal won Saturday's game—a 35-30 shootout that was, for the most part, an entertaining matchup—because they outplayed Carolina. No one is arguing that.

The Heels made one too many mistakes down the stretch while Cal converted on their opportunities, and that’s why UNC found themselves trailing 24-35 with well less than a minute to go. But, with that being said, as wonderkid Chazz Surratt drove the offense down the field while precious seconds ticked away, the few delusional fans (myself included) still lingering in the crowded aisles at Kenan Stadium held onto hope. A touchdown, two point conversion, and an onsides kick recovery would put the Heels right back in the game. Crazier things had happened.

Cal was having none of that. They were tired and already celebrating—it’s a long flight back home. Instead of guarding, Cal defenders simply mobbed UNC receivers, pinning them to the ground as Chazz Surratt aimlessly scampered around the backfield before chucking it somewhere in the end zone. Of course, they were committing defensive holding; a 10-yard penalty and automatic first down. The Golden Bears gladly took the yardage, because, by the time the Heels adjusted and Surratt dove in for a touchdown, the game was over.

It was infuriating. And brilliant.

What Cal did was cheap, but not exactly cheating. They took advantage of a broken rule. It happens all the time—if you would, recall TJ Yates’ desperate, illegal ball spike in the 2010 Music City Bowl that allowed UNC to send the game into overtime. That play ignited as much brouhaha as you’ll ever see out of a low-level bowl game, and ended up being the driving force behind the NCAA’s inclusion of the ten second penalty runoff in the 2011 rulebook. I didn’t care. You didn’t care either. We won.

While it sucks that a hard fought game had to end like that, you’re lying to yourself if you say that you wouldn’t laud Fedora’s ingenuity for doing the same thing that Cal did. In a game that UNC would’ve likely still lost, even if Cal had played straight up, my salt level is nearing the danger zone. To call that ending ‘disappointing’ would be an understatement. Disillusioning? No, no, more like, “I could’ve watched this on TV.”

And yet, I still can’t blame them. Heck, Cal isn’t even the first team to do something like this. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens pulled a somewhat similar stunt to ice the game. The NCAA needs to put an end to this trend before it catches on. As in, now.

Cal’s strategy fully compromised the integrity of the sport. After Surratt sent his second-to-last pass over senior wideout Thomas Jackson’s head—Jackson had been dragged down by his defender—Jackson popped up and got in his face, eventually being restrained by the refs, as you can see in picture above. Who could blame him? Our boys had fought hard all afternoon, and with a chance—however slim—to extend the game, they were being denied because Cal wouldn’t stop fouling.

The solution is simple. When the defense commits a holding or pass interference penalty with under two minutes remaining, the clock should return to what it was when the ball was snapped. For instance, if Chazz Surratt hikes it with 25 seconds left and a defender interferes with Thomas Jackson, the clock should return to 25 seconds in addition to the penalty yardage. That’s just logic. NCAA, make it happen.