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Suspended game between Jordan and East is still controversial

East High principal Paul Sagers confers with referees and coaches as Salt Lake City Fire evacuate fans and players from the  East High School stadium after a fire broke out in a facility building at the field in Salt Lake City, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012.
East High principal Paul Sagers confers with referees and coaches as Salt Lake City Fire evacuate fans and players from the East High School stadium after a fire broke out in a facility building at the field in Salt Lake City, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It was a last-minute cancellation that led to a marquee matchup between two of the state's best football programs.

And the Sept. 2 game between 5A's No. 1 program Jordan and 4A's top-ranked team East was every bit as exciting as everyone expected right up until the finish. Well, make that the suspension.

The game was suspended with 41 seconds left in the third quarter with Jordan trailing by a single missed PAT: East 28, Jordan 27.

And now it appears the game everyone couldn't wait to see will never really end.

The controversy comes with what to count and what to chalk up to bad luck.

Utah High School Activities Association associate director Kevin Dustin consulted with principals from East and Jordan and decided the stats from the game would count and the score would be listed, but it would not count as a win or loss. That bothers some because it's an unprecedented decision to count stats from a game without counting the result.

Football historian George Felt pointed out in a recent article that most games that are stopped are finished within a day or two, sometimes the same night at a different stadium. In eight of those games, the partial game score became the final score.

He argues that it's not right to count the stats if the game doesn't really count for either team. In effect it's a scrimmage.

But Dustin and both principals said they're trying to be fair to both teams while making the health and safety of the players the priority.

While statisticians and fans want the game to count as a win or loss, coaches from both schools said they would prefer to finish the game rather than accept the result of a three-quarter effort.

It was the medical staff at East High that first suggested that playing the game the following Saturday morning would be ill advised.

East Principal Paul Sagers said he was alerted to a smoking electrical box late in the third quarter and had "no choice" but to call fire officials. Once firefighters showed up, they informed Sagers the temperature of the box was 308 degrees.

"They told us they had to shut down the power and in order to do that we had to evacuate the stadium," said Sagers, who praised fans from both schools, as well as coaches and players, for a quick and orderly evacuation. Fire officials told them they wouldn't turn the power back on until a licensed electrician came and corrected what looked like an overloaded box.

Sagers said school administrators and coaches met on the field and agreed to play at 10 a.m. Saturday at East or another Region 6 field.

"I wanted to play it," said Sagers. "(Coach) Brandon (Matich) wanted to play it. We don't back down from anybody. … But we got in the locker room and (the medical staff from Salt Lake Regional) said, 'Why would you put your kids at risk? It's one thing waiting 45 minutes, but to go overnight with contusions, that would just be stupid. That would be putting your kids at more risk.'"

East athletic director Kathy Butler called Jordan athletic director Marc Hunter, who said he also had concerns. But Hunter added that the decision was not his to make.

"He told her that he agreed it was probably not a good idea, but the decision was not up to him, it was up to (the) coaches and the principals," said Jordan Principal Tom Sherwood. But before Jordan administrators could speak with East officials, Hunter heard the finish had been canceled on the television news.

That frustrated and angered Jordan coaches who'd planned - and still want - to finish the game.

"We'll play any time, any where," said Jordan head coach Eric Kjar, acknowledging that physical risks are taken every time players suit up. "We want to finish the game."

In fact, Jordan coaches feel that because it was East High's medical staff that recommended not finishing the game, it should be a forfeit by the Leopards rather than a loss for Jordan. Coaches at Jordan have offered Monday, Sept. 17, as a date to play the final quarter of the game.

But even if they do not play, no one believes the game should count for or against either team.

"It should not be a win for us," said Sagers. "The game was not completed."

His coach agreed with him.

"The whole this is frustrating," said Matich. "It was such a great game, such a great moment for our program and our kids. It was certainly a blast to coach. In terms of us finishing the game, I would love to do that."

But he also conceded that the medical staff had a point about subjecting the young players to injury for a game that doesn't count in region or playoff standings.

"I think we should finish the game if there is going to be a win or loss," said Matich.

Dustin said he felt counting the game would be unfair, and he said he'd never suggest a school disregard the advice of its medical staff.

"It was incomplete," he said. "There seemed to be so much discussion of what to do next and the health and the safety of the kids, I landed there."

Sherwood said he only agreed to not finish the game because of the unusual conditions.

"The only reason I conceded was if it didn't count as a loss," he said. "I wouldn't have conceded a loss, especially because it was their reasons for not playing the game. Our medical staff didn't advise us not to play."

He does understand why Sagers is following the advice of his trainers and doctors.

"I think he's acting in his school's best interest," he said. "As an administrator, I look at it a little differently. … But I do feel like it's unfinished business. You don't bowl seven frames and call it a perfect game."

If the teams don't finish the game before the state championships finish, they won't be allowed to finish it as the season ends for all teams when the final state champion is crowned.