Cottonwood High School wins football game in bizarre fashion

Oct 3, 2022, 12:21 PM | Updated: 12:55 pm
The Cottonwood Colts football team  (Courtesy of Deseret News)...
The Cottonwood Colts football team (Courtesy of Deseret News)
(Courtesy of Deseret News)

MURRAY, Utah – There are over 14,000 11-player high school football teams in the United States. Which means the ‘Friday Night Lights’ are turned on for over 7,000 games each week. 

Potentially every score and every possible ending would be on display at least once a season. But, Cottonwood High School’s game against Jordan High School had an ending that an official claimed he hadn’t seen in 29 years. 

Fair catch, free kick

Late in the fourth quarter, Jordan High School punted from their side of the field, hoping to maintain their 24-22 lead with less than 30 seconds left in regulation. 

To the surprise of everyone, except for the Cottonwood Colts, a fair catch was called for when the returner had plenty of room to potentially get into field goal range. But Cottonwood’s coach, Casey Miller, had another plan in mind.

Section 24 Article 3 of the NFHS High School Football Rulebook states, “A free kick is any kick which puts the ball in play to start a free-kick down. After the ready-for-play and before the kick, each player other than the kicker and holder for a place kick must be behind his free-kick line. A free kick is used for a kickoff, for a kick following a safety, and is used if a free kick is chosen following a fair catch or awarded fair catch.”

Cottonwood High School’s team had prepared for this moment in practice. So, instead of bringing out the offense, Cottonwood’s kicker Ryan Nielson was sent out onto the field with a tee. 

The games spectators, teams, and officials were all confused. So much so that the referees met for a few minutes before eventually deeming the move legal. 

With the game on the line, first-year kicker Ryan Nielson stepped up and drilled the kick.


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“We’ve practiced this in practice. Our coach brought it up to us, he said ‘not many people know about it but we might have to bring it out one day.’ It ended up being worth it,” said Nielson “We knew exactly what to do, I was confident going into it, my team had confidence in me, and I stepped up and I knocked it down.”

The Colts went on to win the game, 25-24. 

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Cottonwood High School wins football game in bizarre fashion