DESTIN, Fla. — It was one of the most impressive plays in the SEC last season. And now what Zach Cunningham did against Auburn would be illegal.
The NCAA has outlawed leaping and hurdling on field goal and extra point attempts. If the rule had been in place last year, it would have negated Cunningham’s blocked field goal at Auburn last year, when he leapt untouched over the line to block a late field goal.
“It was a great, athletic play. But a very dangerous play, in the eyes of the rules committee,” said Steve Shaw, the SEC coordinator of officials, while showing a replay of Cunningham’s blocked field goal..
Cunningham ran about three steps before the snap and leapt over the center untouched, and was basically on top of the kick, easily snuffing it out. That prevented Auburn, which was leading 23-16, from clinching the game with a late field goal.
Shaw showed the Zach Cunningham leap to block a field goal, when he leapt untouched over the center and blocked the field goal. That prevented Auburn from cementing the game, as it led 23-16.
Auburn ended up holding on to win anyway, but the play by Cunningham, an All-SEC linebacker, may be what people remember most about the game.
In fact, Shaw said he got calls afterwards from coaches asking if the play was legal.
“They said they’ve got hurdlers on the track team they could bring over to make that play,” Shaw said, smiling.
So why did the NCAA rules committee outlaw it?
The concern is that if anything goes wrong then it becomes a player safety issue. The center snaps up, or the defensive player mistimes his run, or whatever. While Cunningham pulled it off brilliantly, Shaw said such plays like that “are very few and far between.”
In fact, later that night someone else tried to do the same thing, and failed, as Shaw showed the media.
Georgia was playing at Kentucky, and Rodrigo Blankenship was lining up for a game-winning field goal on the final play. Shaw showed a Kentucky player trying to leap to block the kick. It was unsuccessful, as Georgia’s interior linemen stopped him. And the play was indeed flagged, but the game was over anyway.
“Look, very dangerous play,” Shaw said. “If the center gets up, he gets kicked in the head.”