Football: Middletown forced to forfeit 2 victories

ByPHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The best small-school football team in the Redwood Empire is 0-2 — and that record has nothing to do with a tough preseason schedule.

Middletown, which beat a highly regarded Salesian squad 21-14 in the season opener and followed that up with a 35-0 thrashing of Healdsburg, was forced by the North Coast Section to forfeit both victories due to a paperwork error. In effect, the Mustangs are officially looking for their first win against El Molino on Friday night.

“In my mind, we won those games,” coach Bill Foltmer said. “And our community feels the same way. To our boys and our school, our community, our team is 2-0.”

The problem involved a student who left Middletown to attend a boarding school for a semester, then returned to Middletown High. When he joined the football team this fall, athletic director Airic Guerrero mistakenly counted the boy as a returning student and failed to submit the proper transfer form to the NCS. Guerrero discovered the oversight and reported it to the section, and NCS officials followed codified procedure and hit the Mustangs with forfeits of both games.

“Airic feels horrible because he knows how hard the kids worked, how much they put into these games to win ’em,” Middletown principal Bill Roderick said. “It was a summer’s worth of work. The look on his face when you talk to him about this — he’s remorseful. He’s a great AD, and he knows what this can mean for the kids.”

Roderick said he and Guerrero plan to file an appeal; they hope to complete the paperwork on Tuesday. But NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon said the section cannot even weigh an appeal unless Middletown meets certain criteria — and here, too, the Mustangs might be snared by a technicality.

Under section 218.a.2d of the NCS constitution, a school can petition for return of forfeiture if it can document that the ineligible player(s) had no impact on the result of a game. That shouldn’t be hard in this case. The player was a placekicker who was on the field for just seven plays in Middletown’s two games — all of them extra-point attempts. (He hit 1 of 2 against Salesian, 5 of 5 against Healdsburg.) He doesn’t even kick off for the Mustangs.

However, another criterion states that the player cannot have participated in 50 percent of a game; as currently interpreted, that includes 50 percent of the four quarters. Against Salesian, the kid in question was in for one play in the first quarter and one in the second. That constitutes 50 percent of the game.

Middletown still has a chance to rip through the NCL I league schedule and earn a section playoff spot. But the Mustangs are left to wonder if the two forfeit losses will hurt their seeding.

“The way I look at it, No. 1, we’ve got to go on with the season and win the rest of our games to even put ourselves in position to talk about that situation,” Foltmer said. “And if we do get there, we have to hope the seeding committee will look at that and say, hey, this kid was an insignificant factor (in the first two wins).”

Foltmer said that he has addressed the situation with his players, and they are prepared to move forward. But the coach is disappointed that two hard-fought wins have been erased by such a minor infraction.

And there is no question regarding the player’s basic eligibility.

“If we would have sent this paper to the section office,” Foltmer said, “he would have been eligible.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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