With Havelock beating West Carteret 53-0 in the third quarter, reserve quarterback Jordan Begley dropped back to pass and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to backup wide receiver Christian Crowe.
Later, freshman quarterback Cory Cooper threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Trey Owens. Suddenly, Havelock had a 67-0 lead.
What followed should not have come as any surprise — a discussion on social media websites about whether the Rams were running up the score.
In light of a Texas case in which a parent filed a bullying complaint against another high school’s coach after his son’s team lost 91-0, it’s a discussion worth having.
In the Texas case, the winning coach, Tom Buchanan, pulled his starters after just 21 plays. The clock ran continuously starting in the third quarter. In the end, the school district that investigated the complaint found “no grounds” to support a case of bullying.
In the Havelock-West Carteret game, Ram coach Jim Bob Bryant had pulled his starters out of the game. Begley threw two passes, one of which went for a touchdown. That pass came on third down, after two unsuccessful run plays. The touchdown pass by Cooper was his only pass attempt of the game.
Can the players be blamed for scoring touchdowns? Can Bryant be blamed for calling pass plays? What if the touchdowns came on run plays? Are the Rams running up the score then?
I’ll answer with this: When Derrell Scott and Taylor Woods, Havelock’s top two running backs, both got injured in a game earlier this year against Northside, Bryant had to turn to backups and junior varsity players to fill in. I asked him after the game about the situation.
“We tell our kids all the time that they’re one injury away from being on the field,” he said.
If that is indeed the case, why would Bryant not want his backup quarterbacks to have the opportunity to throw a pass during a real game against an opposing team trying hard to prevent another touchdown rather than at the end of a routine practice?
In a game earlier this year against Jones Senior, a Havelock 63-0 victory, Bryant didn’t allow his starters to play in the second half. The coaches of both teams agreed to run the clock continuously in the second half.
And you could tell by Bryant’s actions and demeanor on the field when those reserves were in those games that he coached them with all the intensity and effort that he did the starters. He knows that this year’s backup players are likely next year’s starters, and to truly develop a winning program, Bryant — and no doubt coaches of other top programs in the state — will say those players need to experience game competition to improve.
In all honesty, coaches do a pretty good job of policing themselves in blowout games. After all, they’re not willing to risk the health of their star players in a 50-0 game. They also know that they can just as easily end up on the other side of such a lopsided contest.
In North Carolina, there are no provisions for a so-called “mercy rule” in football. They do exist in softball, baseball and soccer.
Rick Strunk, with the N.C. High School Athletic Association, said nationally a “mercy rule” exists when a team is ahead by 45 or more points in the second half. However, he said that coaches in this state have been “pretty adamant” about not wanting a rule that denies the opportunity for players on both teams to compete.
Still, and in light of Ayden-Grifton’s 76-0 victory over Kinston last week, it’s time for coaches and the NCHSAA to have a serious discussion about development of a “mercy rule” in football. While coaches can agree to run a continuous clock in blowouts, the athletic association should set specific guidelines that take the decision out of the hands of coaches.
A continuous clock should be automatic once a team gets ahead by 49 or more points in the second half. The biggest comeback in college football history is 35 points, so 49 points in a high school game certainly seems to be enough to warrant a continuous clock.
And by running a continuous clock — rather than an automatic end to the game — that should allow the opportunity for those young players and reserves to get into the game and play hard, and allow coaches to coach hard, without any concerns that they’ll be accused of running up the score — or in the case of Texas — bullying.
Until such a rule exists, it’s hard to blame coaches who want to develop players for next season. It’s hard to blame the backup players who want to take advantage of those rare opportunities to play in a game after weeks of hard practices. And, it’s hard to blame parents who want to see their children play their hardest and score touchdowns.
Mercy rules exist in other high school sports. It’s time they exist in football, too.
Ken Buday is the editor of the Havelock News. He can be reached at 444-1999 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.