Morken: Carlsen, Lattimer break down the play viewed by millions
Coaches weren't exactly thrilled in the immediate aftermath of a play that changed the course of last Friday night's home opener in a win for the Alexandria football team against Sartell.
It's a play that would eventually be viewed by millions of people, but no one would really call what transpired a recipe for success.
"Right after it happened, I was kind of mad," junior quarterback Matthew Carlsen said, looking back on the play three days later. "The quarterback coach wasn't very happy. He was like, 'Yeah, that should have been a pick.'"
The ball might have been intercepted more often than not, but it wasn't last Friday. Instead, the fact it went right through a defensive back's hands and into the waiting arms of Alexandria senior Evan Lattimer for a touchdown made it that much more incredible.
By now, most everyone has seen the play (if not, it's in the video above). Alexandria's snap from the Sartell-St. Stephen 6-yard line on third down sailed over Carlsen's head and rolled nearly 15 yards backward. Carlsen said he never really thought of falling on it just to make sure the Cardinals retained possession.
"Typically, whenever that has happened in the past, I usually try to pick it up and do something," Carlsen said. "In that play, I just ran and looked behind my right shoulder."
After scooping up the ball, Carlsen saw that the Sabres' defensive end was not outside of him. He knew he could get to the left sideline, so that's what he did.
Carlsen is also left-handed, which might have been the most important aspect of the entire play. There were multiple defenders right on his back by the time he threw the ball on the run. Having to turn back to throw if he were right handed likely would have led to a stripped or deflected ball. At minimum, it's not likely Carlsen could have gotten enough zip on the ball to get it more than 20 yards downfield.
I spent most of the second half shooting video from the sideline and probably had close to 15 clips on my iPhone. Some I would use, some were plays that didn't amount to anything.
That's essentially how I thought this play would end up after the high snap. I almost stopped recording, but decided against it when Carlsen scooped up the ball. Luckily, he was forced to the sideline I was on and everything took place right in front of me.
I watched the play back immediately after it was over—Carlsen throws on the run, ball goes through the hands of the defensive back and Lattimer maintains his concentration to haul it in. I knew it was a pretty incredible play, so much so that I decided to tweet it out on the spot. I even sent out a follow-up tweet that I needed help from my Twitter followers to make this go viral.
That was a half-hearted joke, but I did think there was potential there. Everything kind of added up to make this pretty unique—it's the fourth quarter, the Cardinals were down and needed the touchdown to eventually win the game after a Zach Wosepka field goal.
"It started and I was running a little crosser into the end zone," Lattimer said. "I turned back, and I was like, 'Oh, shoot. The ball's like 20 yards back there.' I turned around again and see Matthew sprinting to the sideline, so I just worked my way to the back of the end zone. I saw the guy jump up and it went right through his hands. I just adjusted and caught it."
Lattimer said he noticed the defensive back's hands were far enough apart that he was expecting the ball to be deflected.
"It was weird," he said. "Something about me knew his hands were too wide to catch it, so I expected it to come through even though he should have caught it. When it did, I just reached out and there it was."
The Cardinals knew it was a big play, but they had no idea it would get the recognition that it did. By the time I got back to the office to write the story, ESPN had reached out to me on Twitter to see if they could use the video across all their platforms.
I saw this as a pretty fun opportunity for the players to get recognized across the country and told ESPN to go for it. The first national outlet to send it out was ESPN through their SportsCenter Twitter account that has 35.2 million followers. Many more outlets continued to check in and see if they could run the clip. In total, more than 2 million viewed the video online.
"It's crazy to see a big play in a game that sort of changed the momentum be nationally recognized," Lattimer said. "We turned something bad into something that obviously made national television. That's pretty cool."
The buzz on social media was unexpected enough for players, but the weekend culminated with the video being shown at halftime during NBC's Sunday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The play was recognized as the top play of the week across all levels of football.
"Today has been pretty fun," Lattimer said with a smile on Monday when asked about the buzz around school from the play. "It's just, 'Oh, Mr. ESPN.' Stuff like that. Just sitting and watching Sunday Night Football and all of a sudden it comes up and they say, 'Next at halftime, the top plays from every level.' Then we see that play, and it's like, 'No way. There's no way that's on TV.' "
Mike Tirico, the studio host of Sunday Night Football, broke down Carlsen's pass to Lattimer and used it as an example of never giving up on a play.
For a few days, the Cardinals were the talk of football. All's well that ends well.