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Ruling Texas Lutheran’s double-kicked FG good is not good

It was a field-goal attempt no longer than an extra-point try. And as Texas Lutheran found out, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

The unorthodox field goal occurred when Tyler Hopkins’ kick was blocked by a player from Belhaven University. The ball bounced back to Hopkins who kicked the ball through the uprights. The officials under the goalposts exchanged puzzled looks and ran in to conference with their colleagues. They knew something wasn’t quite right, but couldn’t see what happened through the players on the line. After a long discussion, the field goal was awarded.

But was this legal?

The axiom that seems to have tripped up everyone from the officials to Dr. Saturday  is that “a kick remains a kick until it is possessed.” This helps to compartmentalize many aspects of the rulebook as it pertains to a loose ball. Enforcement points and changes of possession hinge on that interpretation. So the entire time from the initial placekick through to the ball going through the uprights is a “kick” under the rules. But there is one more defined term in this paragraph that was not addressed.

A ball that is not in a player’s possession is a loose ball: in-flight forward passes, fumbles, kicks, and backward passes are all loose balls. So, the blocked field goal remains a kick, but it is also a loose ball. And under no circumstance may a player deliberately kick a loose ball. (A ball being dropped for a legal punt or dropkick is not considered loose if it is kicked as usual.) So, at this point there is a foul for an illegal kick. This being Division III, we are under NCAA rules, and the illegal kick is a 15-yard penalty and a loss of down. Assuming this is a fourth down, this would be a turnover on downs.

In high school and the NFL, it is not a loss-of-down penalty for a scrimmage kick behind the line. (The loss of down does apply to downfield illegal kicks, since the enforcement is from the spot of the foul and the offense gets a partial advance.) In those cases, the foul would allow the offense to repeat the down, so the defense has to decline the penalty. The result of the play would be a touchback, since the offense provided the impetus to put the ball out of bounds in their opponent’s end zone. The fact that the ball goes through the uprights is disregarded on an illegal kick, and it doesn’t require the foul to be enforced to negate a field goal.

(Technically, for the NFL, this also gets placed at the 20, as a missed field goal that went beyond the line — remember, it was still a kick — goes to the 20 if the spot of the kick is inside the 20.)

Back to the original play, if this was any down except fourth, and the illegal kick foul was flagged, Belhaven could have similarly declined the penalty to take possession at the 20.

Texas Lutheran had a handful of legal options available after a blocked field goal: they could run, pass, or punt the ball. Hopkins could have attempted a dropkick and scored, but his effort here is not ruled a dropkick, since he did not drop the ball. Although it is highly unlikely to be coordinated, an NFL team may attempt a second placekick — this could not happen in the NCAA, due to the holder’s knee being on the ground. All of these situations require the kicking team to take possession of the ball behind the line of scrimmage.

So, yeah, there’s going to be a memo this week to all of the officials in the conference, and this play will be shared on many training tapes. And, for one Division III kicker, it will be on his highlight reel.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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3 thoughts on “Ruling Texas Lutheran’s double-kicked FG good is not good

  1. Not an an Illegal kick but illegal kicking – only a 10 yard penalty not 15.

    Illegally Kicking Ball
    R 9.4.4

    ARTICLE 4. A player shall not kick a loose ball, a forward pass or a ball being held for a place kick by an opponent. These illegal acts do not change the status of the loose ball or forward pass; but if the player holding the ball for a place kick loses possession during a scrimmage down, it is a fumble and a loose ball; if during a free kick, the ball remains dead (A.R. 8.7.2.IV and A.R. 9.4.1.XI).

    PENALTY—10 yards, plus loss of down for fouls by Team A if the loss of down is not in conflict with other rules [S31 and S9] (Exception: No loss of down if the foul occurs when a legal scrimmage kick is beyond the neutral zone).

  2. What Tony said – illegal kicking and an illegal kick are two different fouls. This is illegal kicking (of a loose ball) – 10 yds and a loss of down. An illegal kick would be either a return kick or a scrimmage kick made beyond the neutral zone – 5 yds from the spot of the foul and loss of down.

  3. Oh, I know. It was just too fine of a point, which is why I referenced “downfield illegal kicks.” In the NFL rulebook, that distinction of illegal kick/illegally kicking is made at each rule, but then they just cleaned up some references in 2016 where the terms were interchanged. And, they still share the same foul code. I just put it in the same basket of different fouls with similar terminology, such as for illegal touching of a pass (by an ineligible, by a player who was out) and illegal forward pass (behind the line, beyond the line, when there is no line, second pass).

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