A walk-off play to win a championship is what all kids dream about growing up. They think of the cheers, the glory, making SportsCenter’s Top 10, the relief of putting aside differences with an enemy to win a state title and the possibility of a spectacular friendship.
What they don’t think about is the kids on the other side. It’s heartbreaking to know you were so close only for one final play to spoil the dream. Add in a controversial finish, and the devastation increases 100,000 times.
The Clifton High School football team knows exactly what this feels like.
East Orange’s Controversial 100-Yard Fumble Return
Clifton vs. East Orange, 24-24, triple overtime for the New Jersey state championship. The Clifton Mustangs faced a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Quarterback Kyle Vellis attempted to sneak it for the win. He plowed forward and appeared to cross the plane. However, the referees didn’t confirm a touchdown and suddenly, East Orange defender Ahmad Nalls emerged from the scuffle with the ball.
Nalls never heard the whistle, so he bolted towards the opposite end zone. A Clifton offensive lineman nearly catches him, but Nalls takes it all the way to win the state championship game for the Jaguars. Clifton couldn’t believe it.
East Orange dogpiled Nalls while everyone at Rutgers’ SHI Stadium took a second to process what happened, the refs included. The zebras ended up reviewing the play and determined Nalls’ touchdown stood. You can hear a Clifton fan subtly voice his displeasure, knowing full well the ref is doing his best out there.
Let me put on my Dean Blandino suit and take a look myself. It looks like Vellis crossed the plane. I mean, his whole body ends up in the end zone. The question is when did the ball come out. It’s hard to determine from the broadcast angle. Nalls comes up with it from a pile of bodies that are clearly in the end zone, though.
For the ball to have come loose before Vellis scored, it would’ve had to happen immediately since the Mustangs were inches from the goal line. If the play had been called a touchdown right away, I see it standing. Since it wasn’t, and the camera angle doesn’t give us a great look, the result is a crushing loss for Clifton.
Unsurprisingly, Clifton head coach Ralph Cinque didn’t agree with the call:
“I thought we got robbed,” Cinque said. “I’m not saying they don’t deserve to win the football game, because that’s a good football team, but that’s how you’re going to end the game? On a play like that?”
Ahmad Nalls was able to live a dream. Clifton lived a nightmare.