The Mysterious First Down

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When reviewing last Saturday’s ECU film, we noticed something odd, and so far haven’t gotten an answer as to what happened.

With 12:44 to go in the 4th quarter, Logan Thomas completed a pass to Demitri Knowles that picked up a first down on the ECU 32 yard line …. we think. Watching it live, it appeared Knowles was tackled at the 33-yard line, and that’s what the PA announcer said (for what that’s worth, which isn’t much).

In this screen shot (sorry it’s not high def), you can see that the ball is spotted closer to the 32 yard line. The yellow first down graphic from Fox Sports 1 is “out of whack” in this screen shot, so ignore it … but notice that the first down marker (far side of the field, far right of the pic) is at the 22-yard line.

1st and 10

Trey Edmunds ran for three yards, setting up a 2nd and 7 at the ECU 29. Again, notice the first down marker is at the 22-yard line on the far side of the field. The yellow line now agrees with the yard marker.

2nd and 7

Logan Thomas threw incomplete, setting up 3rd and 7.

3rd and 7

Thomas threw for six yards, setting up the 4th and 1 from the ECU 23 yard line.

4th and 1

Edmunds ran off-tackle, and the referees spotted the ball on the 23-yard line, one yard behind the first down marker (the yellow line still agrees with the first down marker on the far side of the field, which never moved from the 22-yard line).

4th down spot

And then the refs did an odd thing: they awarded a first down to Virginia Tech. Even the announcers seemed surprised:

When the Hokies lined up for the next play, they were clearly starting from the 23-yard line.

1st and 10 ball on 23

The official box score from, however, lists the set of downs as starting on the 32-yard line, and Edmunds getting a first down at the 22-yard line … which isn’t where the officials spotted the ball. It’s blurry — click to see the clearer version.


The box score is mistaken for the next four plays after the mysterious first down. Looking at the film, all four plays were run from the 23-yard line, including Cody Journell’s missed field goal attempt, but the box score says the 22-yard line. The distance on Journell’s attempt was correct — 40 yards, because the ball was spotted on the 30.  But field goal distances are the line of scrimmage plus 17 yards … not 18 yards, as the box score shows.

I asked Virginia Tech Sports Information if anything was said about the Mysterious First Down — notice I’m using capital letters now — and they replied that it caused a stir in the press box when it happened, but the subject didn’t come up in any interviews this week.

I did a little research, and as far as I can tell, the yard markers that are visible in the far side of the screen caps are the only yard markers on the field. There is a line-of-scrimmage marker on the near side of the field, but not a set of ten-yard chains. So I’m stumped for an explanation.

Can any of you football eggheads out there explain this? This is either a blatant error, or what they call “a teaching moment.”


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57 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. all we saw on tv is the first official making the short spot. I assumed he was overruled based on where Edmunds landed. Because that original spot was horrible.

    1. The original spot was bad, but I still think it would have been inches short.

      Officials blew it. But in the end it didn’t impact the game.

      1. The officials blew another one that favored ECU. They threw to the TE that was promptly and cleanly tackled at the yard mark. The ball at no time crossed the yard mark but the ball was spotted forward 1 yard and resulted in a first down. Perhaps Greenville is the Bermuda Triangle of the football world.

    2. Agree… the spot was a good yard short of where he was down. If a mistake was made (and it WAS), it was that when we were correctly awarded the first down, the ball wasn’t “re-spotted” on the 22. In this case, “two wrongs made a right”!

  2. why can’t we get these officiating breaks when we’re playing, say, Michigan in a Sugar Bowl? Who cares about getting a break against ECU.

  3. This is amazing. Even though 2 wrongs don’t make a right, in this case, 3 wrongs actually made 2 rights. IMO, the officials screwed up the original spot (wrong #1), but then gave us the first down (right #1) at the wrong yard line (wrong #2). We proceeded to do nothing with the gift and missed the FG at the exact same location (wrong #3). From an ECU perspective, in hindsight, no harm no foul since they got the ball back anyway in the same location (right #2).

  4. All plays are reviewed in booth, correct? Is it possible the booth contacted the referee, told him it was first down, then they forgot to adjust the spot?

  5. The fans where I was sitting sure noticed it and they were none too pleased. That was nice, but the one thing that irritated me the whole game, and Will alluded to it, what the horrible PA guy. He called Kyshoen Jarret about 12 different names through the course of the game.

  6. …and the number of the counting shall be nine yards… ten yards shall be the number…

    Without exact figures, there’s about 70 Div 1 games each week, each with 7 referees, plus replay refs. So over 550 referees each week. Hard to believe but it’s conceivable that that one or two may make a mistake. 🙂

  7. I objected loudly to the spot and when official signalled “first down” I did my best Roseanne Roseannadanna impression and said ….”Nevermind”!!

  8. I think they did something similar a little later with the reviewed ECU first down (right before the Edwards INT). I thought the ECU player had the first down, but they added an extra yard. Oddly the review didn’t move the ball back to the right spot, though I suppose it doesn’t matter since ECU still would have had a 1st down and we got a turnover right after that.

  9. There was some discussion by the announcer crew about the spot and the “1st down, a little later there is a reverse angle shot which shows that the ball was past the 22 prior to Trey’s knee/body touching down. There had been some speculation about the knee being down down.

  10. I don’t believe anyone has mentioned it, but wasn’t the short pass to Knowles on 3rd down the one where he clearly got “horse collared”? I haven’t seen that call missed in a few years, but these refs did. I’m not sure if that would be a full 15 yard penalty, or half the distance to the goal, but it never should have even been 4th and 1.

    1. Bingo. These refs were horrible across the board so things more or less even themselves out over the course of the game. I can’t say either team was given an advantage on the whole.

  11. Edumunds got the first down, they just marked it wrong for the start of the ensuing set of downs. Happens more than you think.

    1. That was what I thought. I though Edmunds went down with the ball inches from the first down marker and that it was going to come down to a measurement for sure.

    2. I thought he had it as well and it was just poorly marked. At first they did say (in the booth) he did not make it because of the spot. I agree about the horse collar very bad no call.

  12. I was at the game, on the 45 yard line on that end of the field. I saw the ball clearly spotted a yard back from where the run ended, and protested loudly (even though there was not another orange/maroon clad person within shouting distance). But just about the time I got the fourth word out of my mouth, the official signaled “first down” so I just stopped in mid sentence and let it go. But I kept in the back of my mind that the ball was clearly a yard back from where it should have been.

    1. This ^ It was a 1st down run, they took away a yard form Edmunds, then gave him the 1st down anyway….

  13. I just noticed another thing. Look at where the ball goes from when the line judge marked it to where the head referee placed the ball. That’s a full half yard back.

  14. Easy. Obviously the refs don’t have the yellow/blue lines. Trey got the first down at the 22 and the refs signaled as much but then then they just mistakenly spotted the ball a yard back at the 23 for the next series of downs. The chains had already started moving to reset so they just looked at the new spot and set up based on that.

    If anyone should have complained it was VT because they’re a yard farther away from the end zone.

    1. Like that would have mattered…CJ almost missed the end zone on the FG attempt – poor guy…and LT could not get a yard…

      I think you all are all over it…TE got the first down and the ball toss to the spotter went backwards vs laterally creating the “how did we get a 1st down”…I was at the game too but at the opposite 45 and could not really tell…

  15. I saw it and initially thought we got hosed on the spot, and would need to challenge. Then they said it was first down, so I didn’t think about it anymore.

  16. My guess is the one ref had money on ECU and spotted it short and one had money on VT and gave the first down because he needed the Hokies to score to cover.

  17. I saw this and was shocked…I was surprised when ECU never challenged the spot…they are allowed to do that…referees make mistakes, only thing I could get was that the first down line was off on TV, but that obviously wasn’t the case. It was a 4th down play, and determined possession of the ball, and they simply said 1st down without a review of any sort…crazy.

  18. Hokie CPA is right on the money here. Edmunds did get the 1st and the officials knew it. They just spotted the ball incorrectly. The referee on the play side ran up and spotted the ball at the 23 – the referee from the other side of the field saw the error and was ready to spot the ball on the 22 but was distracted. Bottom line is it was a legit 1st down.

    1. exactly correct

      More interesting is when ECU didn’t make it to the 30 [or so] and the ref’s spotted the ball one yard ahead of that.

    2. 100% correct.

      In the video clip you can clearly see Edmunds landing with the ball across the 22 as his knee hits at about the 23. On the near-sideline the Line Judge (bottom of the screen) comes in and spots the ball back at the 23, but if you look at the top of the frame you can see the Referee looking to the far-sideline (off the top of hte screen) at the Head Linesman for the spot, then indicating first down. We can only assume the Head Linesman was indicating first down at the 22. The Referee then notes the first down in his book and proceeds to spot the ball incorrectly, based on the incorrect spot of the near-side Line Judge;

      TLDR; Head Linesman and Referee correctly called it a 1st down, Line Judge & Referee screwed up the spot.

      1. Not exactly….the spot in that situation was the Line Judge’s all day long as the play ended on his side and he had a clear view. The Ref would not look to the Linesman for the spot in that situation. Evidently the LJ judged that Edmunds was down at the 23, and the other officials would not have over-ruled him as it is his spot. Also, the Line Judge has the best view of the chains so everyone else looks to him first to signal a clock stoppage for first down or change in possession. The LJ should have held his spot and corrected the Linesman…the chains should have never moved. Furthermore, the Ref does not set the spot or the chains….he signals the ball ready for play (and winds the clock if applicable) when the others have performed their tasks. Why the Umpire spotted the ball incorrectly and the Linesman was allowed to move his chains is unforgivably amateur. Another piss-poor demonstration of mechanics by college officials….weak sauce!

        1. I think you’re wrong and your lack of knowledge about which official is which doesn’t inspire any confidence in your interpretation.

          My understanding is that the Head Linesman is responsible for spotting the ball as well as supervising the chain team. He is the senior offical on the LOS and his decision overrules the Line Judge every time. The Line Judge is basically an assistant to the Head Linesman. In this particular case the camera angle does not show the Head Linesman (he’s across the field from the camera, as are the chains), but the last we see of him he’s looking across the 22 yard line as Edmunds dives for the 1st down. The film also shows the ref looking in the Head Linesman’s direction as he walks up to the LOS before signalling first down. That indicates to me that the Head Linesman had a clear enough view of the play to indicate to the referee that it was a first down.

          As for the Line Judge – his spot of the the ball was incorrect and if the first down had not been signaled by the Referee, his spot would’ve been overturned on replay.

          As for the Umpire, he didn’t place the ball anywhere, he only served to relay the ball from the Line Judge to the Referee, who then placed the ball on the hash at the 23 and wound the clock.

          1. Interesting that you defend your opinion so aggressively….as an official, I can tell you that I know EXACTLY the proper mechanics.

            1. Your opinion on the roles of the different officials is incorrect at best. There is no hierarchy among the two positions, and their responsibilities are not the same…some similar and some very different, but there are no “assistants”

            2. For this play, the spot was the Line Judge’s, not the Linesman’s….every time. If the Ref looked toward the other sideline, he was probably looking to see where the 1st down marker was located. If he is looking at the Linesman for a spot, then he is even more lost than I gave him credit for. And it is the LJ’s responsibility to correct the Ref on the proper down as he has the best advantage of whether the line-to-gain was achieved…the Linesman does not have that advantage until the ball has been placed. The Ref should only be looking at the LJ for an indication of first down, change of possession, or measurement. On a play that ends close to the first down line-to-gain, it matters not whether the Linesman has a “clear view” since it is not his spot.

            3. The Ref should not be spotting the ball…that is the Umpire’s job. If the ball needs to be relayed, then the Back Judge should be there to do so….not the Umpire. This further illustrates the lack of mechanics competency for the entire crew.

            4. Whether the spot was correct and overturned is irrelevant. If proper mechanics had been used, then they would have the chance to review the spot…there is no rule that allows the crew to arbitrarily re-spot the ball to correct the poor judgement.

          2. Palmetto Hokie is correct…he must have officiated correctly himself in the past…notice I say correctly because there are a lot of bozos that don’t…

  19. Given the litany of other questionable calls in this game, I’d chalk this one up to the ineptitude of the refs.

  20. Aren’t you missing the most important screenshot? Where Trey actually was tackled when he ran for 4th and 1? IIRC, he got it and the placed the ball on the wrong marker for the 1st down.

    1. This is the correct explanation. Trey had the first down. The ball was at the 1st down marker at the time his knees hit the ground. The ref botched the spot of the ball

      1. Exactly right; I was having an apoplectic fit over the spot of the ball; then it was 1st down — problem solved. Whose Refs, any way??

  21. Will – the only thing I can add is that I noticed this during the game and was totally confused, and then if you keep watching the game, the yellow 1st-down line was about 2 yards off on the next drive or two as well. I don’t think that clarifies anything, but it made me think at the time that when we feel a yard short of the yellow line that maybe we were really a yard past the yellow line. The odd thing was that it wasn’t even a close call or a measurement, they just gave it to us. Also I think we got a bad spot on one of the plays. Did you watch the tape to see if maybe he was giving us the correct spot (a 1st down) and then just brain farted and signaled an incorrect spot 1 yard back after having already made the 1st down determination? Sorry if that is confusing….

  22. Watching it live, it looked like a bad spot (should have been at/close to the 32), so I just assumed they had resppotted the ball or the d/d markers were off or something. Needless to say, I’m still confused, but not surprised. This didn’t seem like a case of spectacular referee performance (lots of blown calls on both sides). Guess we’ll just smile, nod, and move on.

  23. My son and I were watching, and we thought Edmonds had the first down but was given a horrible spot, which would have put him short of the first down. However, we then noticed that the refs had given him a first down but placed it short of the marker. My only conclusion is that one ref must have signaled first down based upon his view of forward progress; the other refs went with it; but they then marked the ball at the short spot. It was odd.

  24. I saw it live too and thought it was weird. For the record, I think Edmunds did get the first down, but was given a bad spot.

    So all’s well that ends well.

  25. I got nothin, boss. It LOOKED to me like Trey had the first down. He crossed the line on 4th down and the the refs moved the ball back a half a yard. Best I can figure is somebody awarded the first down based on that first impression and said to heck with the spot of the football.

  26. When trying to understand the the reasons for many human endeavors, never overlook stupidity. Oficials just blew it!

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