BENNINGTON — Friday night’s Division II championship rematch was a hard-fought battle between host Mount Anthony and the visiting Bellows Falls Terriers.
Senior MAU captain and two-way starter Ayman Naser was ejected from the contest just before halftime after picking up his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game. The moment a player receives two unsportsmanlike penalties throughout the course of one game, they are automatically ejected. After further review, Naser should have remained in the game.
The play in question came with 2:24 remaining in the first half. Following a Jamison Nystrom rushing TD, Naser yelled ‘go’ prior to the snap on the ensuing extra-point attempt. Defensive players are not allowed to mimic a cadence.
The rule is referred to as a “disconcerting act foul” in the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rule book which — up until the 2020 season — was classified as unsportsmanlike and carried a 15-yard penalty. The rule was changed prior to the start of the 2020 football season to a lesser penalty.
“Disconcerting acts or words by the defense has been reclassified from an unsportsmanlike foul to a disconcerting act foul, and the penalty changed from 15 yards to 5 yards,” per the NFHS website.
It was Naser’s first unsportsmanlike penalty of the game.
He picked up his second with 9.9 seconds left in the second quarter after scoring MAU’s first TD of the game, a 14-yard reception from quarterback Tanner Bushee.
After diving into the end zone, Naser got up off the ground and spiked the football in excitement, drawing another unsportsmanlike penalty for excessive celebration that ended his night early. While that penalty was correctly called, it should have been Naser’s first unsportsmanlike, allowing him to remain in the game.
Jim Corbo, one of the five officials at Friday night’s game in Bennington, spoke with Mount Anthony coach Chad Gordon after the game and explained the miscue.
In a Saturday morning email sent to Gordon and shared with the Banner, Corbo offered his regrets for the missed call.
“This is truly regrettable on our part that the misapplication of a rule contributed to (Naser) missing the second half of the game against Bellows Falls. For the record, (Naser) should not have been disqualified from the game. Ayman Naser has full clearance to participate in MAU’s next game per both NFHS and VPA rules/guidelines,” Corbo wrote. “As a team captain he did display true leadership throughout the first half of the game and was respectful throughout the second half as he supported his team. I can only hope that the MAU football community, especially Ayman Naser, can accept our heartfelt apology for this error.”
“If I could, I would drive to Bennington today and apologize in person to Ayman,” the email continued.
Gordon expressed his gratitude toward the officiating crew at Friday’s game and hopes it serves as a learning experience for his Patriots.
“I respect the integrity and thorough explanation from the crew. They do a tremendous job and hope they can cover another one of our games this year,” Gordon wrote to the Banner. “ They have a tough job and we are using this as a learning experience as we move on to prepare for Mt. Mansfield.”
The MAU coach also said he feels it did not impact the final outcome, a 28-13 Bellows Falls victory.
“We in no way feel this incorrect enforcement changed the outcome of the game. Bellows Falls was the better team on Friday night.”
Corbo hopes the Vermont Football Officials Association can learn from this mistake.
“We cannot change the events that occurred at this time, but this error will be shared with our association as a learning opportunity to be better and do everything we can to enforce the rules of the game and apply them correctly.”