Taunting penalty costs team state title

The father of a Boston high school quarterback lashed out Tuesday at a referee’s decision to flag his son for illegal celebration in a decision that cost the team the state championship.

Cathedral High School senior quarterback Matthew Owens, playing on his 18th birthday Saturday, raised his arm in triumph at the 20-yard line while running toward the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown that would have put his team ahead in the final minutes.

But the referee instead penalized the team 15 yards for the celebratory gesture, and Cathedral lost to Blue Hills Regional 16-14 in the Massachusetts Division 4A championship.

The referee viewed the raised hand as an illegal taunt of the opposition, though Owens’ father, Kenneth, told the Boston Herald there was "nothing dishonorable about the play."

According to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) handbook, taunting is defined as, "any actions or comments by coaches, players, or spectators which are intended to bait, anger, embarrass, ridicule, or demean others, whether or not the deeds or words are vulgar or racist."

Officials told myFOXBoston.com referees use the NCAA rulebook as their guide, since the state’s rules leave room for interpretation. The taunting rule was just put into place this season.

The NCAA rulebook includes stricter examples of taunting and unsportsmanlike behavior that include, "any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)."

In the highest profile example this season at the NCAA level, LSU punter Brad Wing saw his rare touchdown on a fake punt nullified in a game against Florida for putting his arms out and looking back as he ran into the end zone.

Kenneth Owens, however, insists the referee robbed his son of a moment he would have treasured for the rest of his life.

"To take the touchdown, to put that much anxiety on an 18-year-old after that performance, somebody has to tell me how do you do that and call yourself just from a football standpoint," Owens said.

He noted that since his son is Catholic, the raised hand was actually a nod to his faith.

Owens delivered a letter to the MIAA Monday seeking an explanation for the ruling.