Ineligible man downfield is an interesting rule. Essentially, any offensive lineman or a tight end/slot receiver who is "covered up" by an outside receiver cannot cross the line of scrimmage before the ball either crosses the line or is touched by a defender.
This is the penalty that ended South Alabama's last desperate attempt to complete a comeback against Navy and send the game into overtime.
Granted, it could have been the shoddy run defense that allowed Navy to run the ball 34 times for 316 yards and four touchdowns in the second and third quarter. This was likely a key factor in watching a 17-7 Jaguar lead turn into a 35-20 deficit heading into the fourth quarter.
This looked like it might start to resemble the Middies' game against Georgia Southern, but then the Navy run game got sloppy. Noah Copeland appeared to fumble but was ruled down just prior, and Navy proceeded to score and take a 42-27 lead. After a touchdown pass from Brandon Bridge cut the deficit to one score, the Midshipmen took over possession and Geoff Whiteside found a seam up the middle, almost broke free -- and was stripped of the ball. First down Jags.
They shot right down the field again, and scored to cut the deficit to 42-40, which is where things got interesting. On their two-point attempt, Bridge found Shavarez Smith in the corner of the end zone, and the game was tied at 42-42.
Except it wasn't. Somehow, the Jaguars were flagged for an ineligible man down field. I don't know how that happens when the line of scrimmage is the three, but it did. I didn't see it, but the flag was thrown. Try again from the eight.
This time, the play broke down, and Bridge sprinted up the middle, hurdled over a Navy defender who was still standing up and had the wherewithall to extend his arm into the end zone as he came back to Earth, and the score was tied at 42-42. No, seriously. Look:
Except it wasn't, because it turns out that the reason Bridge was able to escape the collapsing pocket was because Drew Dearman had wrapped up and rode his defender to the ground once he was beaten. Holding penalty, try again from the 18.
Once again Bridge dropped back, and this time his pass fell harmlessly into the gut of a Navy defender. Game over.
Hats off to the diehard Jaguars fans who hung around as the temperature dropped and their team slowly warmed. They played Navy to the wire, which is more that can be said for Georgia Southern, which means... something, right?
Hopefully they enjoy whatever bowl game they get to attend, because this kind of resilience definitely should be rewarded.