By The Associated Press
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Driscoll Middle School’s “penalty play” has become an Internet sensation.
Quarterback Jason Garza pulled off the ingenious trick play in Saturday’s city championship game that’s triggered a frenzy of national media attention. The video has generated more than 3.5 million hits on YouTube and a barrage of calls to the tiny school, enrollment 610, and to Jacqueline Ortiz, Garza’s mother.
“It’s been wild,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Absolutely crazy.”
Coach Art Rodriguez said the Rangers were just looking for some offense, pinned at their own 30-yard line and trailing Wynn Seale 6-0 with four minutes left in the game. He and assistant coach John De Los Santos decided that it was finally time to unveil a play De Los Santos remembered running when he played quarterback for his middle school team in 1987.
It fizzled then, when an alert safety tackled him.
This time, it worked to perfection.
The play was set in motion before the actual snap. Garza barked out a long snap count, and got Wynn Seale’s defensive line to jump offsides. The referee marked off 5 yards, and Garza returned to the line.
And then Garza and the Rangers sprang their ruse.
De Los Santos yelled out that referees needed to mark off 5 more yards for the offside penalty, and he told Garza to get the ball and do it himself. Garza nonchalantly asked center John Porter to hand him the ball over his shoulder — a legal snap — and then took five casual steps through the unaware Wynn Seale defense.
Driscoll’s offensive linemen started yelling at Garza in mock panic, asking him what he was doing — while all stayed in their stances.
Garza took off for the end zone, outrunning a safety for the tying touchdown.
“It looks beautiful,” Rodriguez said. “He could’ve gotten tackled or somebody would’ve picked it up really fast. It just so happened that everybody was just kind of looking around, and it looks hilarious on the video.”
Ortiz said the parents in the crowd were as confused as Wynn Seale’s defense — and Ortiz was ready to bury her head in shame.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, man, the coach is going to be so mad at you. What are you doing?’” she said. “But there were no flags, no nothing. He took off running, so then everyone was like, ‘Run! Run! Go! Go!’”
The Rangers have been practicing the play for weeks and just needed a chance to use it.
“It’s a play-acting thing, everybody is acting out in it,” Rodriguez said. “The whole team knows about it. And then once Jason starts marking off the steps, he looks for daylight. That’s it.”
Two weeks ago, Ortiz was almost ready to pull her son off the team after two teachers told her his grades were slipping. Rodriguez swayed her to reconsider, but when the school called Ortiz on Monday, she assumed the worst.
“I was like, ‘Oh, man, what did he do now?’” Ortiz said. “The woman said, ‘No, you need to come over here now. There are TV stations interviewing him, and they’re calling us from Fox and CNN. You need to come over and sign some paperwork to OK the interviews and stuff.’”
For all the buzz it’s generated, the play didn’t pay off: Driscoll botched the 2-point conversion and the game ended in a 6-6 tie. Without overtime, Wynn Seale was awarded the championship because of a 2-1 advantage in red-zone penetrations, one of the league’s tiebreakers.
Rodriguez, who’s worked in the city’s school district for 31 years, said the impact of the play has far outweighed the outcome of the game.
“We lost the championship, but we’re getting a lot of publicity of this,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a positive thing for the school.”