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One-point safety

(Updated with Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl and Hamline’s 2000 one-point safeties.)

Before the 1988 season, the NCAA made a rule change, awarding college football teams two points for returning a failed extra point or two-point conversion. This happens occasionally (9 times in I-A football in 2005).

This rule change brought in play a truly obscure rule: the one-point safety. If a defensive player retreats into his own end zone following an interception, fumble, or blocked kick on a conversion attempt and is tackled there, the tackling team is awarded 1 point. (Similarly, if the converting team retreats into its own end zone and is tackled there, the defense is awarded 1 point, but that end zone is 97 yards away, so this is extremely unlikely.) This rule did exist before 1988, but the defense had no incentive to return a failed conversation, so it had no effect.

NCAA Rule 8-1-1: The point value of scoring plays shall be … Successful Try: … Safety — 1 Point.

Approved Ruling 8-3-2-I: On a try attempt, B2 adds new impetus to a Team A fumble that is recovered in the Team B end zone by Team B. 
RULING: Safety, award Team A one point….

Approved Ruling 8-3-2-II: On a try attempt, B2 kicks a Team A fumble into the Team B end zone where Team B recovers while grounded. 
RULING: Safety, one point for Team A, or Team A may accept the penalty for illegally kicking the ball … and repeat the down.

Approved Ruling 8-3-2-IX: On a one-point try attempt, Team A’s kick is blocked and B75 recovers at the two-yard line. As B75 attempts to advance, he fumbles and the ball rolls into the end zone, where B61 recovers and is downed. 
RULING: Safety. Award Team A one point….

[Edit: The NFL rule changed in 2015.]  The NFL also allows for the one-point safety, but only for the offense.  Because play ends on an NFL conversion as soon as the defense gains possession, the only way this really could happen is if the defense batted the ball from the field of play into its own end zone.

NFL Rule 11-3-2-d: If there is no kick, and the Try results in what would ordinarily be a safety against the defense, one point is awarded to the offensive team.

Approved Ruling 11.4: During a Try, placekick holder A1 fumbles. B1 kicks, bats, or muffs the loose ball (new impetus) on his 2 and it goes out of bounds behind the goal line.
Ruling: Ordinarily a safety (11-5-1). Award one point.

Known one-point safeties:
1. Westminster vs. West Liberty State (NAIA Division II), September 7, 1996.
Westminster holder Kevin Freeman fumbled the snap. Abandoning the kick, he rolled to his right, but threw an interception, which Liberty caught on the 1-yard line. The interceptor was immediately tackled, causing a fumble that Liberty recovered in its own end zone.

2. Moorpark College vs. Bakersfield (Junior College), September 21, 1996.
Moorpark kicker Tim Wolleck’s extra point was blocked and recovered by a Bakerfield defender at the 3. The defender retreated into his own end zone, and was tackled there.

3. Hamline (MN) vs. St. Thomas (MN) (Division III), November 11, 2000.
Trailing 13-6 in the 2nd quarter, Hamline’s extra point was blocked.  St. Thomas recovered the ball at its own 2, then lateraled back into the end zone where the player was tackled.  (Thanks to commenter AHS Class of 1976 Reunion for the tip.)

4. Texas vs. Texas A&M, November 26, 2004.
Texas had just scored a touchdown off a blocked punt to cut Texas A&M’s lead to 13-12 in the 3rd quarter. The snap on the extra point was low and was bobbled by backup holder Matt Nordgren, causing Dusty Mangum’s kick to be blocked. A Texas A&M player picked the ball up but was immediately tackled and fumbled the ball into the end zone, where it was recovered by another Texas A&M player.

5. Oregon vs. Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl), January 3, 2013.
Up 31-10 in the 3rd quarter, Oregon’s extra point was blocked and picked up by Kansas State on its own 2-yard-line.  The Kansas State player then retreated into his own end zone where he was tackled.

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39 thoughts on “One-point safety

  1. Did it ever happen before 1988 in college or has it ever occurred in the nfl or high school. It is possible in the case of a batted ball I believe.

  2. I actually had this happen once in NCAA '09, and the programmers did not know the rule, where I threw a pass that got intercepted on the opponents' own one yard line, and the computer player started making his 'crazy gyration moves' as I call them, to try to avoid tackle…and ran himself backward and out of bounds in his own end zone. My side was awarded two points for safety…when I now learn that I should've only received one. I will now remember this unbelievably obscure rule forever.

  3. It can't happen in high school football. According to the rule book, the try ends when the defense gains possession. There if the D intercepts a pass or picks up a fumble, the whistle blows immediately killing the play

  4. Are you sure it can't happen in high school football? Yes, the play ends if the defense picks up the ball. That doesn't prevent the defense from, say, knocking the ball completely through the end-zone and out of bounds without picking it up.

  5. It can happen in high school in the same way it could happen in the NFL.

    From the 2010 NFHS Rulebook:

    Rule 8-3-3: "During a try, [Team] A may score … one point for a … safety by [Team] B under rules governing play at other times during the game."

  6. Also, remember that HS football in some states is played under NCAA rules. I've never seen it happen live, myself, but I worked a game in which it came close to happening.

    Remember the momentum rule comes into play here, as well. A safety cannot be awarded if the defender's momentum carries him from the field of play into the end zone, so the defender must enter the end zone on his own hook. Batting the football in the end zone seems a more "likely" scenario.

    I would pay good money to see an defensive 1-pt. safety, though… all the way on the other end of the field. It would have to be a case of a change-of-possession, returned down the field by the defense near to the goal line, a fumble by the defender that somehow reverts the impetus back to the offense (by recovery or illegal batting in the end zone) that makes the ball dead in the end zone.

  7. The interesting thing about this rule, is that, at least as far as College Football is concerned (and maybe High School, in some states), that this is the only way, besides a forefit, that a team can score exactly one (and ONLY one) point in a game. I'd love to see Alabama vs. L.S.U. end with a final score of 23-1. Also, singles are regularly scored in Canadian Football, but that is a whole different animal altogether!

  8. The only way for a team to end the game with a score of 1 would be on the extremely improbable 97-yard safety. I can't really think of a way for this to happen that doesn't involve the team that just scored a touchdown intentionally running into the opposite end zone.

    The type of one-point safety that could actually happen in normal circumstances can only be scored by the team that just scored a touchdown.

  9. Just now happened again in the Fiesta Bowl, Jan 3, 2013 in the game between Kansas State and Oregon. K State blocked an extra point and recovered it, but was tackled in the end zone.

  10. This also happened in the Fiesta bowl when K-State blocked an extra point by Oregon. K-state recovered, retreated to the end zone, fumbled, and recovered it in the end zone, giving up the safety. At least they didn'T have to kick off.

  11. Wow, I missed it, how did the ball get into the endzone? Was the ball carried into the end zone then fumbled or was the ball recovered in the endzone after coming off the hands of the defender who blocked it?

  12. Impressive … Just looked this up right after that Fiesta Bowl 1-pointer and you've already updated the post. Good job on updating so quickly

  13. Had Oregon recovered the ball, it would have been two points, as the end result would have been Oregon in the end zone with the ball for a successful conversion.

  14. The defensive 1-pt safety may be highly improbable, but it could happen thus: PAT is blocked and recovered by the defense who returns it to the other end to attempt to score, but has the ball dislodged by the opponent on the 5 yard line, which is then recovered by the original kicking team, outside their endzone, retreats into his endzone to avoid a tackle, and gets tacked in the endzone.

  15. Along these lines, I forget who was playing but in a college game a couple years ago the first score of the game was a touchdown but the extra point was blocked and the other team ran it all the way back, which made the score 6-2 :-O

    And then the next day in the NFL a team blocked the extra point and they had an open field to take it back, but the pro rule is that it's a dead ball so no surprise bonus points 🙁

  16. I'm the sports information director at NCAA Division III St. Thomas (Minn.). We had this play happen on our field in our 2000 season finale (Nov. 11, 2000) against crosstown rival Hamline. It's cool to know that this play is so rare, but it makes sense. I just read that since 1996 in FBS, only 94 times has the two-point defense return been pulled off. Plus the fact that the rule changed in 1988 to create the chance for such a weird play means it's not like some plays which have a 100-year history. I was scoring the game and had never heard of the play, but Stat Crew software had an entry for a safety on the PAT and it indeed gave the offense one point. In going back to verify the details, I found that four kicks were blocked in the game, won by St. Thomas 19-13. I'been an SID and/or sportswriter for 30-plus years, and if you stay around long enought you see just about everything.

  17. Looks, here's how the weirdest one-point safety could happen: Point-after try, kick blocked, defense recovers and runs the ball 90 yards to the other end zone. Before they get there, the kicking team's player catches up to the runner, hits him and he fumbles the ball into the end zone. The kicking team player grabs the ball, retreats into his own end zone while trying to get back down field, but is tackled in his own end zone. Result: One-point safety for the defending team. In fact, the game could end with a score of 6-1. Wait ten thousand years and see if it happens.

  18. The interesting thing about this rule, is that, at least as far as College Football is concerned (and maybe High School, in some states), that this is the only way, besides a forefit, that a team can score exactly one (and ONLY one) point in a game. I'd love to see Alabama vs. L.S.U. end with a final score of 23-1. Also, singles are regularly scored in Canadian Football, but that is a whole different animal altogether!

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  21. Yep. If a blocked field goal attempt is recovered by the kicking team and advanced into the end zone, the kicking team scores a touchdown.

    A conversion attempt (try) is really an untimed down where a score is worth one third of its normal value, so if a try kick, normally worth 1 point, is blocked but recovered by the kicking team and advanced to the end zone, it would be a touchdown worth 2 points, just as an intentional pass or run play for a touchdown on a try is worth two points.

    Starting in 2015 in the NFL, as has been the case in college for some time, change of possession on a try does not automatically render the ball dead. This means that a turnover of blocked kick recovery on a try play can actually be returned by the defense for a 2-point touchdown (which I've seen called a "counter-conversion").

    It also allows for any type of safety that would be possible on a regular play, albeit for only 1 point instead of 2 (theoretically it should be 2/3 of a point, but there's no fractional points). So things like the play at the 2013 Fiesta Bowl can happen. Or theoretically, through a highly unlikely combination of events such as two turnovers on the play, the defense could actually score a safety on the offense, resulting in a possible score of 6-1, the only way for a team to have only 1 point in an American football game.

    Canadian football also has the rogue, a point awarded to the kicking team for preventing the receiving team from advancing the ball out of the endzone on a kickoff or punt (like a touchback) or missed field goal (as the goal posts are still at the front of the end zone in Canada). Gets some flack for awarding a point on a missed field goal, but is interesting. A version of that (which would only work for kick offs, punts and maybe short field goals if feeling generous) would be an interesting addition to the American game, I think, as it'd make a touchback into a less desirable situation.

    1. Yes, but Canadian end zones are 25 yards long. On a rouge (not “rogue”), the ball needs to clear the entire end zone.

    2. Yes, but Canadian end zones are 25 yards long. On a rouge (not “rogue”) per Wikipedia, “A single is awarded when the ball is kicked into the end zone by any legal means—other than a convert (successful or not) or a successful field goal—and the receiving team does not return (or kick) the ball out of its end zone. A single is also scored if the kick travels through the end zone, or—other than on a kickoff—the ball goes out of bounds in the end zone without being touched.”

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