SUU coach Lamb reacted like a winner after controversial loss
Imagine pouring your heart and soul into a project for six years.
Imagine working your way to the brink of a breakthrough moment in pursuit of your goal.
Imagine everything falling apart because somebody else makes a mistake.
It happened to Southern Utah football coach Ed Lamb a couple of weeks ago and it would be old news except for the graceful, gentlemanly, sportsmanlike way he handled the situation.
Southern Utah owned a 10-3 lead with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter against Northern Arizona.
Presumably, the Thunderbirds needed a victory to advance for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs an unimaginable accomplishment when Lamb arrived in 2008.
Facing third-and-10 from the Southern Utah 25, Lumberjack quarterback Kyren Poe threw a short pass to Nick Cole but the ball bounced before reaching the receiver.
It was such an obviously incomplete pass that Thunderbird cornerback Tyree Mills stopped without tackling Cole and walked away.
It should have been fourth-and-10. Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers should have been forced to make a decision go for it on fourth down against the best defense in the Big Sky Conference or attempt a 42-yard field, which would have only made the score 10-6.
Cole, who deftly controlled the bouncing football, turned and raced into the end zone
The officials closest to the play glanced at each other, hesitated for a moment and raised their arms over the head, signaling a touchdown.
The game was tied, the momentum had changed and Northern Arizona eventually scored a 13-10 victory.
After the controversial loss, Lamb could have lashed out at the officials. They missed an obvious call, completely turning around the biggest game of his coaching career.
Instead, Lamb sat calmly in the postgame press conference with quarterback Aaron Cantu and linebacker Chad Hansen, who both unsuccessfully fought back tears.
At one point, Lamb's eyes also glistened not for himself, I don't think, but for the pain his players were feeling.
But criticize the officials?
Lamb never came close.
In fact, he praised them for getting together, discussing the play and coming up with the decision they believed was correct.
"[The officials] said that they all conferred and nobody saw it bounce," Lamb said. "They could not confirm it bounced. â¦ I applaud them for getting together and talking about it."
As it turned out, the loss to Northern Arizona did not cost Southern Utah a playoff berth. Unexpectedly, the Thunderbirds still received an at-large bid.
At the time of his reaction to the missed call, however, Lamb had every reason to believe SUU's season had ended and seniors like Hansen had played their last game.
He could have reacted harshly. Many coaches in the same situation would have.
Instead, Lamb chose to set an extraordinary example for all of us.