Everyone has seen it by now.
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry was about to fall to the ground for what would’ve resulted in a loss for the Razorbacks, but he alertly tossed the ball backward in hopes that one of his teammates would pick it up and pull off a miraculous play.
Arkansas running back Alex Collins made the miracle a reality when he picked the lateral up off a bounce and followed his blockers down the field for a first down. The Razorbacks went on to score a touchdown and nail a two-point conversion to get the 53-52 win over Ole Miss.
But should it have counted?
By the definition of the rules below, it appears like the ball should have been ruled dead when Collins picked up the ball, which would’ve ended the game with Ole Miss ahead 52-45.
According to Rule 4, Section 1, Article 3 of the NCAA Football 2015 Rules and Interpretations rulebook, “A live ball becomes dead and an official shall sound his whistle or declare it dead: When, before a change of team possession on fourth down or a try, a Team A fumble is caught or recovered by a Team A player other than the fumbler (Rules 7-2-2-a and -b and 8-3-2-d-5).”
According to Rule 7, Section 2, Article 2 of the NCAA rulebook, “When a backward pass or fumble is caught or recovered by any inbounds player, the ball continues in play.”
However, an exception to Rule 7-2-2 reads, “On fourth down before a change of team possession, when a Team A fumble is caught or recovered by a Team A player other than the fumbler, the ball is dead. If the catch or recovery is beyond the spot of the fumble, the ball is returned to the spot of the fumble. If the catch or recovery is behind the spot of the fumble, the ball remains at the spot of the catch or recovery.”
ESPN Football Rules Expert Dave Cutaia tweeted that the play was legal.
“Advance was legal because it was a backward pass, not a fumble,” Cutaia said in a tweet. “Anyone is allowed to advance a backward pass.”
“A backward pass is a PASS, not a fumble whether or nor it hits the ground,” Cutaia said in another tweet. “4th down fumble rule doesn’t apply!”