Oxford - CLEARLY trying to run out the clock and end the game - had 2nd & 8 on the Green Wave 20 with the clock inside 30 seconds at the time of the snap. The drive started at the Green Wave 44 after a failed onside kick attempt by West Point and had the drive last more than four minutes - the longest of the night for Oxford who prior to that drive only had the ball for less than nine minutes.
Keep this back-setting in mind: Abraham two years ago trying to kneel down on the clock, but another West Point lineman straight up took a shot at one of Oxford's lineman before the snap. That was the game Oxford finally got over the hump and beat the Green Wave for the first time. Also, the targeting rule was not in effect for that year. Last year in the regular season, ANOTHER West Point lineman, when Abraham was scrambling for yards after not finding a safe pass, went high on Abraham's face mask and pulled it backwards. The act resulted in Abraham injuring his knee on the play with his leg planted on the ground at the time the face mask was grabbed and had to miss the next four games.
This year, Cunningham (not once, not twice, but) three times in the game took a free cheap-shot hit at an Oxford player. Once during the first half on an offensive lineman continuing the play well after the play was blown dead, once with a free shot on Patton near the end of the game, and of course the tackle on Jack Abraham a full 1-1/2 seconds after handing the ball off on a running play with the running back four yards up the field. The last one was called for flagrant targeting and ejected Cunningham from the game. On replay from the end zone game film, Cunningham led with the helmet, lifted Abraham off the ground and drove him into the turf. Abraham was down on the play for two minutes. Oxford was not trying to fool anybody on the play, and was not trying to fool anybody throughout the course of the last drive.
Here is the rule on Targeting a defenseless player - which is what was called on the field:
NFHS rule 2-32-16:
"A defenseless player is a player who, because of his physical position and focus of concentration, is especially vulnerable to injury."
Officials are also taught this:
"When in doubt whether or not a flagrant targeting foul has been committed - game officials will be instructed to classify the foul as flagrant and disqualify the offending player"
It is important to note for a player to be ejected for targeting, the targeting foul must be deemed flagrant. Only in high school is where a targeting foul does NOT eject the player unless it is deemed flagrant.
Usually this rule refers to a wide receiver not making the catch and then getting hit in about a 1/2-3/4 second after the drop. In this case, Abraham did not have the ball for a solid amount of time (1-1/2 seconds after using the clock feature on Hudl on the iPad), more than enough for a defensive player to react and not make the hit. It is VERY important to note that a legal hit CAN be made and can STILL be called targeting if it is deemed that the player that was hit was defenseless.
In the eyes of the officials for that game, they deemed Jack Abraham was defenseless when Cunningham hit Abraham on the last play. Not only did Cunningham hit him, but finished the tackle as well, all knowingly (or should have known) that Abraham did not have the ball. Cunningham did lower his head and Abraham attempted to backpedal away from Cunningham before the hit was made. In the process of backpedaling, his head bobbed up enough where Cunningham just did miss his neck on the hit. Abraham, luckily, was not injured on the play. Two officials, both who had clean views of the play, threw the flag there for flagrant targeting. Because it was deemed flagrant, Cunningham was ejected. Another important note that not all targeting fouls warrant ejection due to not having instant replay to review it.
I reviewed all 34 offensive plays Oxford ran during the game including all 14 running plays Oxford ran. Not one time during an Oxford running play did a West Point defensive player go after Abraham in the shotgun until the Cunningham flagrant targeting foul.
One could argue Oxford should have kneeled on the ball. However, because of what happened the last time Oxford tried to kneel on the ball against West Point two years ago with Abraham, the Chargers could not take that route.
Another could argue Abraham should not have been in the game up 22 points with less than a minute left. Ben Bianco - backup QB last season - quit the team. JR McClure, a freshmen, is not ideal to throw into the game and then promptly make a mistake. Oxford has had a wideout take snaps from the wildcat, but we haven't seen that this year and it wouldn't be wise to risk a mistake there.
West Point fans argue that he was just the "spy" man on Abraham in case he kept the ball on a "zone-read". Four words: That is a lie.
Green Wave fans: here is a lesson on defending the zone-read: the Left (or any) Defensive End NEVER has the quarterback in those situations. That is a linebacker's job on any mobile quarterback. No defensive lineman has a player to defend because they are getting blocked by the offensive line that is a yard across from them at the time of the snap. The defensive line must first get around the offensive line before they can even make a play on a player. That is why those jobs who look to see if the quarterback is running is to the linebackers. They are NOT being blocked at the snap. Saying Cunningham had the quarterback on a zone-read is a lie.
The fact of the matter is this: The hit was unnecessary, plain and simple, legal or not. It should not ever have gotten into the hands of the officials to even make that call. Cunningham put the officials in doubt and when in doubt, they have to make that call.
Take it from someone that has had to make those decisions.