Ultimately the play didn’t affect the outcome of North Carolina’s 50-14 victory against Wake Forest Saturday but the question has persisted: How and why was Ryan Switzer’s 70-yard punt return called back in the third quarter?
The ACC stood by the call Monday, saying the decision to blow the play dead came because Switzer gave an “invalid signal” before his return – and not because the official thought Switzer had given a fair catch signal.
The Tar Heels led 29-14 when they forced a punt on the Deacons’ first drive of the second half Saturday night. Just before he caught the punt, Switzer raised his right hand slightly and touched his chest. He made the catch amid several defenders and then broke free.
After a 70-yard return to the Wake Forest 1-yard line, the play was called back. Switzer was called for a delay of game penalty because he returned the punt after the official had attempted to rule the play over.
The official play-by-play record of the game reflects the confusion surrounding the play. That account indicates that Switzer called for a fair catch. On Monday, though, the ACC said the official wasn’t calling it dead because Switzer signaled for a fair catch but instead because he gave an “invalid signal.”
An invalid signal, as defined by the rulebook, is “any waving signal” that doesn’t meet the requirements of a fair catch signal. Apparently, the official deemed Switzer raising his hand and touching his chest to be an invalid signal.
On Saturday, the call prompted UNC coach Larry Fedora to throw down his playsheet in disgust as the crowd at Kenan Stadium unleashed a loud, long chorus of boos.
Earlier Monday, Fedora said he hadn’t heard back from the league office about the call.
“I don’t expect to get an explanation, I really don’t,” he said. “I mean, and what are they going to say, anyway? That’s going to make feel better? How about that – what’s going to make me feel better? Nothing.”