— Caleb Watkins (@Calebwtkns) September 19, 2015
Most of the postgame talk coming out of Glendora High School’s 42-28 nonleague win last Friday night over fellow CIF-Southern Section Central Division contender Los Altos hasn’t been about quarterback Matt Fink’s huge game or the Tartans’ strong second-half defensive effort.
Instead, it’s the opening kickoff that has many fans still shaking their heads and wondering out loud about what exactly happened when Los Altos tried to bum rush Glendora kicker Caleb Watkins and block the kick.
Why was their no flag thrown for off-sides on the Conquerors? Was Los Altos’ being malicious by rushing Watkins during a part of the process that usually goes unnoticed?
On the play, Watkins kicks off as three Los Altos start toward him and one of them barely avoids making contact with him. The kick is fielded by a Conquerors’ return man and taken nearly to midfield.
Glendora coaches loudly protested that was there was no penalty for off-sides. Watkins demonstratively wondered the same thing on the field and later tweeted “So apparently there isn’t an offsides on kickoff anymore…how in the world is that call missed?”
“First and foremost, there was zero mal-intent,” Los Altos head coach Dale Ziola said. “If you notice on the film, our kid even turned away in order to avoid Caleb.
“Here’s the thought process: Caleb is a stud. He’s got a 99-percent touch-back rate on kickoffs and kicks field goals from all over the yard. So my special teams coach goes “It’s going to be a touch-back anyway, so what’s a 5-yard encroachment penalty? What if we go block the opening kickoff? Just to knock it down. Just to get the kid to go “what the heck?”‘
“And that’s kinda what we did … to see if we could get in his head and rattle him the rest of the night. Obviously, it didn’t work.”
On Watkins’ next kickoff attempt, after a Glendora touchdown for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Tartans answered back by doing an onside kick, which they recovered.
“The onside kick kinda rattled ourselves,” Ziola said. “Our kids who were encroached were ended up not wanting to cross the 50 once the ball was kicked and it kinda backfired. But, we still get in his (Watkins) head and he kicked less touch-backs on Friday night than he normally does.
“That was the thought process. No mal-intent. No cheap shots. Just trying to rattle him.”
As to whether a flag should have been thrown, the answer is a resounding yes from Tracy McFate, who is the assigner for the Foothill-Citrus Football Officials Association.
“It’s absolutely a encroachment penalty and it should have been called as soon as the first (Los Altos) player stepped over the 40-yard line,” McFate said. “We make no excuses. There’s three officials who should have caught it. I think it was the element of surprise.
“I think the intent here obviously was not to cause injury, but the Glendora kid booms it into the end zone every time, so it’s gamesmanship. And I think there’s room for gamesmanship as long as nobody gets hurt. But my phone was ringing on Friday night. The officials know they didn’t get it right. And I did talk to Dale Ziola and he said he’s not going to do it anymore.”
Aram’s take: I speculated on Friday night that this is EXACTLY what Ziola was trying to do. And you know what? WHO CARES? I saw the play live, the Los Altos player held up and avoided Watkins. Nothing wrong with trying to rattle a kicker who you think might be a factor later in the game if it’s close. It didn’t work per se … partly because the game wasn’t close and Watkins wasn’t needed to deliver a clutch FG late. If you’re getting upset about this, then football may not be the game for you.