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Taggart says Johnny Ward learned lesson after late penalty

USF junior defensive back Johnny Ward was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, which led to Navy’s final touchdown in the Bulls’ 29-17 defeat. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

In football, mistakes are bound to happen. It’s an unavoidable part of the game.

But making a blunder late in a game — on national television, no less — that potentially costs your team a chance for a major victory? That’s bound to turn some heads.

Late in the fourth quarter of USF’s 29-17 defeat at Navy on Saturday afternoon, that’s the position Bulls defensive back Johnny Ward found himself in.

With Navy clinging to a five-point lead and six minutes remaining, the Bulls looked like they had made a crucial third-down stop that would have forced the Navy to attempt a long field goal. Make or miss, it would have remained a manageable one-possession game with plenty of time to score.

But that never happened.

Moments after the play was whistled dead, an official flagged Ward for unsportsmanlike conduct. An official told Bulls coach Willie Taggart that Ward tried to knock the ball out of the referee’s hand. Video replay from the CBS Sports Network telecast, however, showed Ward exchanging words with the umpire before the flag was drawn.

Regardless of why the penalty was called, it allowed Navy to take a fresh set of downs. Seven plays later, quarterback Keenan Reynolds was celebrating a 1-yard touchdown.

“In that situation, that was critical. That was a big time for us,” Taggart said during Monday’s AAC coaches teleconference. “Those are the winning plays that we have to make. We can’t make those silly plays like that against a good football team and expect to win.”

“And we had a chance there.”

Hours after the game, Ward went on Twitter to apologize to fans for the mistake.

“Keep my head up and promise to never do it again,” Ward wrote.

Taggart, who was visibly irate on the sideline toward Ward after the penalty, said the Georgia native wasn’t forced to say sorry to his teammates, but chose to.

“We all know what kind of player Johnny is and what kind of person he is,” Taggart said. “That (penalty) was kind of out of character for Johnny. But it was a selfish play that we know as a team that we just can’t have, especially against a good football team.”

“We all know Johnny will come back and make up a play for us. He’s handling his consequences for that, and then we’ll move on.”

Ward has registered 19 tackles with one pass defensed in seven games this season. He will make the trip with the team to East Carolina on Saturday.