October 24, 2011
There are plenty of ways to win a game in the final minute, but none may be rarer than the one employed by Miami (Fla.) Belen Jesuit Prep on Friday. Trailing traditional powerhouse Miami (Fla.) Northwestern High 28-27 with less than 30 seconds remaining, Belen fielded a punt at the Northwestern 39-yard line.
That's when things got interesting. According to the Miami Herald, rather than take a few shots down the field, Belen coach Rich Stuart made one of the rarest calls in all of football: He had his team attempt a free kick.
"It's unusual, but it is completely legal," Greater Miami Athletic Conference head of football officials Joe Underwood told the Herald. "It is a free kick that can be taken following a fair catch, and it doesn't matter if it is off a kicking tee or not."
Hardly ever used outside of high school football (you can see former Arizona Cardinals turned Houston Texans kicker Neil Rackers attempt a free kick -- and miss horribly -- in an NFL game here), a free kick allows a team to attempt a field goal off a tee or held by a holder, just like a kickoff, after it fair catches a punt. Only the opposing team can return a miss (since a block is made impossible) and the opposing team must stand a full 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. The kick is worth three points, just as any other field goal is.
For Belen's kick, the placing at the 39-yard line made the free kick a 49-yard attempt by placekicker Sergio Sroka, who had missed a potential go-ahead field goal just moments before.
This time Sroka drilled the kick, giving the Wolverines an unlikely 30-28 lead, an edge which was padded by an interception return for a touchdown by Michael Ugarte to complete the 36-28 final score.
You can see video of Sroka's kick directly below.
If you haven't heard about the free kick rule before, don't worry, you're hardly alone. In fact, even Sroka himself didn't know about the rule until he lined up to try the game-winning kick.
"I didn't think I'd get another shot after I missed. I never knew about that kick or that we could do that. It was a lot of pressure off my shoulders."
According to Stuart, the program was only made aware of its ability to try a free kick by Julio Fortay, a math teacher at the school who is a retired official and once served as the head of GMAC football officials.
The unlikely kick capped an even more unlikely rally for the Wolverines, who trailed a powerful Northwestern squad 28-7. Perhaps more notably, the upset has set the stage for a huge heated rivalry contest in the coming week, with 5-2 Northwestern needing a win against undefeated Miami (Fla.) Central High just to qualify for the state playoffs.
Of course, that just makes Belen's win all the more important.
"When we got into this district we knew it would be tough," Stuart told the Herald. "Our kids have beaten good teams in the past, so they were battle-tested and ready."
The Wolverines were battle-tested, ready and, as it turns out, they had a heck of an ace up their sleeves which Stuart pulled out at precisely the right time.