by Jim Riggs
November 10, 1978
Beat The Clock
My father met a man Sunday who thought the police would probably be protecting Sanfilippo’s house. The next day my mother-in-law, who could care less about football, told me about a big commotion about the way the Jamestown coach "blew the game with North Tonawanda.”
These are just a few of the people who would have stood in line to purchase the dart boards mentioned above. And with each angry toss of a dart they would mutter, “And this is for blowing an undefeated season. And this is for blowing the Division I championship. And this is for blowing a No. 3 ranking in the state.”
But did Sanfilippo really blow it? When you take a look at the facts it doesn’t appear that way. While a majority of fans were singing the chants of a lynch mob Sanfilippo must have been humming an old Chicago tune called “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
Sanfilippo supposedly blew it when his team was faced with a fourth down-and-12 situation on its own 40 yard line with 15 seconds left to play and the score tied 16-16. On the first two downs the Red Raiders had planned to pass (the first play resulted in a sack) in an attempt to go for the win despite the fact the tie would give them the division title. After an eight-yard running play JHS was left with a fourth-and-12. Sanfilippo had the choice of either having his team punt or go for the first down. Since North Tonawanda had no time outs left he chose the latter.
He explained his reasoning Tuesday while inspecting the facilities at Rich Stadium. By having his team run on 4th down it would use up time and leave the visiting Lumberjacks enough time to get off only one play. Of course a punt could have put NT deep in its own territory but there were risks of a long runback, the snap being fumbled or the kick being blocked. So Sanfilippo elected to go with a running play with 15 seconds left. His main concern was not getting a first down, but using up valuable time.
The ball was fumbled and JHS recovered it on its own 35 so that is where North Tonawanda took over possession with 10 seconds left. That is very significant since the 10 seconds remained on the clock even after the Lumberjacks ran their next play.
On that play the quarterback flung a long pass that was tipped by a Jamestown defender before falling into the arms of an NT receiver at the 6. While all this action was taking place the timekeeper forgot to start the clock. “When I looked up and saw 10 seconds still on the scoreboard I about died,” recalled Sanfilippo.
The officials made a judgement call and decided there were still 5 seconds left on the clock. That means the quarterback faded back, threw a long pass that was tipped and then caught in just five seconds. It is hard to believe and Sanfilippo still doesn’t.
However, even if it had taken five seconds there is no way the visitors would have had time to get their field goal unit on the field. As Sanfilippo stated Tuesday, even the pros figure it takes 15 seconds to bring in the kicking team. But while the officials conferred about what the amount of time to put on the clock North Tonawanda had time to set up for the field goal that eventually won the game.
But the Jamestown films of the game don’t show it that way. The Red Raiders are seen pointing to the clock signifying no time was left before the ball was snapped. “The field goal was kicked at least three seconds after time had expired,” theorized Sanfilippo.
The point is if the clock had been running on the pass play before the winning field goal there would have been no winning field goal. Sure, the clock would have stopped to allow the chains to get in position but then it would have started again and it is very doubtful North Tonawanda would have had time to get off a field goal.
Joe Sanfilippo is not making it a big issue. He stated North Tonawanda was the best team the Red Raiders had played and it is obvious the Lumberjacks’ platooning proved beneficial. He says his players took the loss very well and had a good practice Monday.
He talked about the clock incident calmly and did not appear upset about it. No one could blame him for tossing and turning every night thinking about it but he isn’t going to lose any sleep over it. He explained that you can’t protest in high school so “what are you going to do.”
Unfortunately, some of the natives are not so calm. They are restless because Sanfilippo didn’t have his team punt on fourth down. But that isn’t the issue. It isn’t the lack of a kick but the lack of ticks that led to defeat.
When the clock stops and the opponents do not, it is very diffuicult to win.
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.