NEW BRITAIN – The CIAC and school administrators expect high school coaches to keep any uncomplimentary thoughts about how games are officiated away from where the public can consume it.
But there are times in the scholastic realm when the quality of officiating simply falls short. Officials are entitled to the same consideration everyone should receive in regard to human error. We all make them. The folks in stripes ought to be commended for performing tasks that many find distasteful, and most of the time their work is impeccable. Where would our sports be without our officials?
Yet sometimes honesty should prevail.
Those who either did not attend the New Britain-Berlin football game or were too far from the action to formulate an opinion deserve to know what went down.
To start with, the New Britain High football team has absorbed its share of detrimental calls from officials over the years.
I was on the sidelines for virtually every game Jack Cochran coached at New Britain. He was winning games by lopsided scores and rode the officials relentlessly when calls went against him.
It seemed whenever a New Britain player made a long punt or kickoff return, yellow flags would litter the field. The 50-point rule was not in effect then so perhaps officials took it upon themselves to manage the score. The fumes continued through the realm of Cochran’s successor Paul Morrell, who told me several times that he was putting together a film for evaluation.
There’s no way I can confirm that the refs took it upon themselves to manage the score, of course, and I understand why they might consider such action, but the New Britain kids who were achieving were bearing the brunt of the perceived indiscretion. Adults behaving badly? Some saw it that way, and I must admit I did on occasion.
With that as a backdrop, I commend current New Britain coach Tebucky Jones for being candid and honest after the Hurricanes’ 14-7 loss to Berlin on Thanksgiving Eve. He was frank about the calls that hindered his team and the fracas that led officials to clear the field with 1:46 still remaining.
“[The officiating] was horrible,” Jones said. “They always tell us not to get involved with the officiating but you know what? I’m saying it. It was horrible. … You shouldn’t talk about officiating but I’m gonna talk about it. It was bad. They can say what they want to say.”
QUESTIONABLE CALLS: On the fifth play of the game, senior defensive end Jared Boddie was ejected for allegedly throwing a punch. I did not see it, but I saw Boddie’s tears. Was it really so blatant that he couldn’t be warned first? Nobody I talked to actually saw it so I’m not certain about the severity of Boddie’s action.
On the very next play, Berlin’s junior running back Kevin Main threw a haymaker that many did see. It didn’t connect, and it drew an identical 15-yard penalty, but Main was not ejected.
The New Britain sideline led by athletic director Len Corto was incredulous. The game was only three minutes old and the officials had lost control.
“They threw one of our kids out, one of our top players and our best defensive players. They said he threw a punch,” Jones said. “Then their kid – one of their top players – threw a punch, which the whole stadium saw, and he finishes the game. It’s all on film.”
Late in the first quarter, Berlin’s superb wide receiver Tom Undercuffler was covered well on an out pattern. Like many receivers are wont to do when coverage is tight, he created separation with a little shove, most likely without even realizing it. Quarterback Mitch Williams delivered a strike. With the defender down, Undercuffler turned it into a 61-yard catch and run that became a touchdown two plays later.
Late in the third quarter, a punt by Berlin’s Tyler Bouchard struck one of his blockers in the back to give New Britain beneficial field position. NB back Devante Gardner gained 23 yards to give the ’Canes first-and-goal at the start of the fourth quarter.
On second down, Malique Jones broke the plane of the goal line on a quarterback sneak. The ball was spotted three inches short. The Berlin defense stiffened and prevented what would have been the game-tying touchdown.
“We scored on the quarterback sneak and they didn’t call it a touchdown,” Tebucky said. “Push off? You name it, it happened in this game.”
With just under two minutes remaining in the game, Berlin was faced with a third-and-2 at the New Britain 30. A first down would all but end it. Undercuffler ran the ball and rolled when he hit the ground. The play happened right in front of me.
Did Undercuffler make the first down? I would say he did, but the ball was spotted after he rolled, giving the appearance that he made it by two yards or so. New Britain requested a measurement but the chains already had been moved. According to Tebucky, the chief official said the pin hole was still evident, although I would guess there may have been a few pinholes in the mud by that juncture.
“They blew it dead and they were supposed to come out and measure it,” Tebucky said. “He said, they moved the chains already but they said the pin was set in the right place. But it wasn’t. They moved the pin. I said, ‘Well you can’t give them a first down.’ They ended up giving the first down. There were a couple spots like that.”
THE FRACAS: Shortly thereafter, a shoving match between two players evolved into Scene 2 of adults behaving badly.
Coaches came out on the field as the pushing and shoving escalated and proceeded to toss kerosene on the campfire. A video on the Berlin Patch website shows indisputably that Berlin coach John Capodice was rather animated and could be seen gesturing toward Tebucky Jones.
“I just saw two players arguing and it got a little wild,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘Everybody calm down,’ and [Capodice] got smart. He was running like he wanted to fight me. I don’t think he’d want that. He shouldn’t act like that in front of kids. … Instead of trying to break up the kids, he’s running his mouth.”
Berlin was in a kneel-down stage so continuing the game wouldn’t have served any purpose. But the officiating and the fiasco damaged the integrity of a great local sporting event that needs to continue for a long, long time.
Capodice was never a proponent of the so-called Wishbone Bowl due to the size discrepancy between the two schools, but Berlin has won two of the first three encounters. It looms as a great rivalry, if the Berlin people allow it to continue.
“It’s a good thing,” Jones said. “It’s good for the schools but you know what, [Capodice doesn’t] want it. That’s what I think part of it is. [Football] is a tradition in Berlin and New Britain. The town is right there. It should be played every year. It should have been played when I was in high school.”
THE INTERVIEW: After the field was cleared, Tebucky responded to a request from John Pierson of WTNH-TV for an interview.
Pierson asked the tough questions and Jones answered candidly. The interview was still in progress when an adult from the Berlin team pushing a carriage with equipment interrupted the proceedings.
“Tebucky, Tebucky. Why don’t you go after my kid again? You went after my kid,” he shouted, loud enough so Pierson had to alter his interview.
Jones looked at me with a perplexed look on his face.
“What’s he talking about?” Jones said.
And with that the curtain came down on a hard-fought game that Berlin deserved to win. Maybe next year we’ll get a game that’s better officiated and perhaps the adults can set a better example for the fine lads who play the game.