First Posted: 1/7/2012
LUMBERTON — Imagine having a front-row seat to college football’s premier bowl game featuring two of the country’s top offenses without having to spend your savings on StubHub.
Imagine that view being from a pair of Heisman-caliber backfields and not the 50-yard line.
For ACC referee and Lumberton native Brad Allen, his dream assignment came true this week as his crew worked the 98th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The seven-year veteran who has been up close to Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and his rhythmic strides at Georgia Tech and Matt Ryan’s fourth-quarter brilliance at Boston College, officiated a 45-38 shootout that wasn’t decided until the game’s final play.
“After further review, prior to the spiking of the pass, the clock went to zero. The game is over,” Allen said through his mic to the crowd of 91,245.
In two plays with no timeouts, former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson moved Wisconsin to Oregon’s 25-yard line trailing by a touchdown. Wilson hurried under center with two seconds left and spiked the ball into the turf, setting up what he thought was a last-second heave to the end zone.
But it didn’t happen.
Allen waved off the incompletion on national television and signaled the end of the game.
“It was interesting because I’ve never had a game end like that,” Allen said Friday. “I don’t have any idea what the playcall or rationale was because I don’t question coaches or game strategies, but it was certainly an interesting ending.”
Allen’s call sent an eruption of cheers throughout Duckland as head coach Chip Kelly and his Oregon football team rushed the field in celebration of the program’s first BCS win.
From Robeson County’s Backyard Brawl to a handful of ACC Championship Games in Charlotte and Tampa, Allen has been in the middle of many impressive finishes at the high school and college level, but 2012’s first opportunity on the luscious turf in Pasadena may have been his most exciting workday yet.
Allen wasn’t the only local at the Rose Bowl. He was joined by umpire Mike Webster, a Fairmont native, and Lumberton’s John Armstrong, the game’s replay official in the booth.
Webster and Armstrong have worked together since 1978 when the pair officiated a junior varsity football game at Whiteville High School. According to Webster, the Rose Bowl was like other games he has called in the ACC, but Los Angeles made it grand.
“It was one of the best experiences overall I’ve ever had outside of the game,” Webster said. “College football games are sort of like my philosophy on my children; you love them all equally, but the atmosphere surrounding each is different and enjoyable.”
Armstrong said Monday’s game felt similar to a previous Rose Bowl he officiated on the field in 2001.
“This time as the replay official, my perspective was different,” he said. “The uptempo (offense) by Oregon created some anxious moments in the (replay) booth as you had to make quick decision whether or not to stop the game. Thankfully, we kept pace with them.”
All three members of the officiating crew enjoyed one of the finest bowl performances from two teams in history, a contest that featured 1,129 yards of offense and a series of heart-stopping touchdowns. Oregon freshman De’Anthony Thomas touched the ball twice and scored two touchdowns that totaled 155 yards.
He helped the Ducks win their first Rose Bowl in 95 years.
“We knew going in we were in for a track meet,” Allen said. “Scouting both teams, you see that there was two great quarterbacks and two great running backs in LaMichael James and Montee Ball. Our scouting report prepared us for the game.”
Added Webster: “We were aware Oregon had tremendous speed from top to bottom and that both teams could put points on the board.”
On the final snap after Webster spotted the ball at the 25-yard line, Allen made the decision to stop play and look at Wilson’s spike before he was buzzed upstairs by Armstrong, the replay official. Allen and Webster were front and center for the 17.6 million viewers watching from home and for thousands of Robesonians that recognized their faces.
“Our crew didn’t wait for an opportunity for the coaches or players to question the call,” Allen said. “When college football began instant replay in 2005, we’ve always been instructed as officials to immediately look at game-deciding plays without hesitation.”
Webster knew his teammates made the correct call.
“Several things went smoothly those last two seconds,” he said. “The clock started on Brad’s signal, then it was snapped. We had great coordination between the referee, the umpire and the official clock operator.”
Selection process for Rose Bowl
Allen’s crew was selected through an evaluation system used in grading officials. The rigorous system includes a thorough inspection of game film, missed whistles and conversations regarding calls after plays have been reviewed.
“In college football, Division I in particular, you’re graded and evaluated every game of the regular season,” Allen said. “Every correct call, bad call or no call is graded by a technical assistant who serves as the replay assistant. We’re handed our grades and you hope your crew is selected for a bowl.”
Allen calls the Granddaddy of Them All the “assignment we all hope to get.”
Throughout his career, Allen has taped non-league games during the season, as many as 15 per week, to use as training tools for his officiating crew in addition to reviews of ACC film each fall. In the era of spread offenses and gimmick plays, officials try to simulate every possible formation.
Webster has been on Allen’s crew each of the last five seasons.
“It’s beneficial to look at as many plays as you can,” Allen said. “There’s usually 30 plays a week that we try and study.”
As leader of the Rose Bowl’s seven-man crew, preparation for the BCS game was intense.
“The speed of the game is what makes Division I football so challenging,” he said. “You have to concentrate substantially on every play. Luckily, our guys were ready for an offense as quick as Oregon’s because of teams we’ve already seen. Clemson runs a similar no-huddle but isn’t quite as fast.”
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at [email protected]