Published December 06, 2011
Matthew Owens, a senior quarterback for Boston's Cathedral High School, had the state championship in his sights as he raced across the 20-yard line toward the end zone for a would-be go-ahead score.
But Owens -- on his 18th birthday, no less -- saw the "play of his life" negated during Saturday's Division 4A Super Bowl for briefly raising his left arm for two strides, prompting a referee to enforce a sportsmanship rule that bans players from celebratory behavior during scoring plays.
Owens, who was rattled by the call according to the school's athletic director, threw an interception on the very next play following the nullified touchdown. Cathedral went on to lose the game to Blue Hills Regional Technical School 16-14.
Jimmy Lynch, athletic director of Cathedral High School, said the "misinterpreted" call cost his team the state title, but noted how proud he was of his football team's sportsmanship following the controversial call.
"If there's a lesson to be learned, it's that our kids are unbelievable kids, and that we haven't been unsportsmanlike," Lynch told FoxNews.com. "What people don't realize is that no matter what, our kids tried hard for the rest of the game."
And despite the agonizing loss, Lynch said Cathedral players willfully congratulated their opponents after the game.
"That's what sportsmanship is all about," he said.
Owens, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, did not "high-step, strut or slow down" as he ran for a late fourth-quarter touchdown during the game at Bentley University, Lynch said.
"I think it was just pure player excitement," he continued. "I don't think that's excessive celebration … it's a shame the call had to be misinterpreted."
Lynch said he and Cathedral football coach Duane Sigsbury spoke to Owens after the game and during school this week. Owens, a three-sport athlete, will now focus on playing guard for the school's basketball team.
"He's a great kid, a strong kid," Lynch said. "He made the play of his life and he was excited about it."
The call, however, is "going to stand," Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association spokesman Paul Wetzel said.
"There's no provision about doing something after a game has finished," Wetzel told FoxNews.com. "You can't come back and say, 'Hey, the umpire blew this call.' It was an official's judgment, that's that."
Wetzel said it was an "unfortunate situation" that Owens was penalized on such a significant play, but added there is no appeal process to be considered. He also noted that more than 6 minutes remained in the game following the play.
"This wasn't the last play of the game," he said. "It didn't cost them the championship, it cost them a chance to be in front in this game."
Wetzel said the association began implementing the new sportsmanship rule this year after it was announced last season by NCAA officials. While NFL players may celebrate prior to a touchdown, it is banned on high school and collegiate levels, he said.
Kenneth Owens, Matthew's father, said his son merely raised his hand because "he was going to the pinnacle," he told the Boston Herald.
"There was nothing dishonorable about the play," Kenneth Owens told the newspaper. "There was no doubt it was a touchdown. He gets 20 yards in -- and he's not thinking about the rule -- and he just raised his hand."
NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford confirmed to FoxNews.com that if a player makes a taunting gesture to an opponent en route to scoring a touchdown, a taunting flag would nullify the score and penalize the offending team 15 yards from the spot of the foul.
An example of the rule's enforcement, Radford said, was a fake punt that resulted in a touchdown for LSU against Florida in October. That score by LSU punter Brad Wing was ultimately called back after Wing was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Wetzel, meanwhile, said one of the main lessons young people can learn from sports is that "sometimes you get bad calls," or that bad decisions are made.
"We can all look back at anytime in your life and say 'I had a boss who made a bad decision,' or things happen that go against you and you have to learn to accept it if there isn't anything you can do to change it," he said. "Accept it and move on, that's part of life."