011022 Indianapolis: Officials ruled Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett fumbled on this play as he is sacked and Alabama recovered during the 4th quarter in the College Football Playoff Championship game on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Head referee explains reasoning behind controversial Stetson Bennett fumble

It was an all too familiar feeling for Georgia fans. Shades of Tyler Simmons being onside. The officials had made a dubious call and it happened to go against Georgia in a national championship game against Alabama.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett was scrambling away from the Alabama defense, trying not to take a sack to end another Georgia drive. With Chrisitan Harris barring down on him, Bennett did his best to get rid of the ball, which bounced in bounds as it made its way to the sideline. Alabama safety Brian Branch grabbed the ball near the sideline, but to the naked eye, it wasn’t clear whether or not he was in bounds.

But that is what the officials ruled. Head referee Duane Heydt announced to the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd that Bennett had actually fumbled the ball and Alabama recovered at the Georgia 16-yard line.

After a lengthy review, Heydt announced that the play would stand. Naturally, Georgia fans were not happy and some proceeded to throw trash onto the field.

Heydt issued a statement on the call after the game, explaining the process by which the call was made.

“What we ruled is that the quarterback lost possession of the ball prior to his hand coming forward, so we ruled fumble,” Heydt said. “And then we had evidence that showed a calling official on the sideline had a foot inbounds with recovery of the football before he went out of bounds. “And when we went to replay they were able to confirm on the sideline that his foot was inbounds with possession. And then we let the play stand as far as the hand going forward because there was no evidence to clearly overturn that he clearly had possession of the ball. So as the hand started coming forward the ball was already coming loose. So that’s why the play stood.”

Heydt explained his thinking on that call as well.

“The quarterback was scrambling, and when the ball was loose we could not determine how the ball became loose,” Heydt said. “So our philosophy is we just let the play out because we have replay that can come back and overturn it if necessary. If we were to rule it incomplete, because we think it might have been forward, and it would have been incorrect, that is hard to replace as opposed to letting it play out because we did not fully see his hand going forward with possession of the ball. So we let it play out. “So when replay came in, they were able to confirm, indisputable video evidence, that he did have full control of the ball when his hand was going forward. That’s why it became an incomplete pass after further review.”

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