A special moment occurred in the Sonoraville freshman game vs. North Paulding last Saturday as ninth-grade special needs student Matthew Smith entered the contest just before the half and scored with a jump shot.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday he doesn't know how footballs became deflated during the game that got his team to the Super Bowl.
But Belichick declined to answer questions after saying he knew nothing until Monday morning about accusations that his team cheated with underinflated footballs in its win against the Colts in the AFC championship game on Sunday night.
The NFL is investigating. Belichick said the team is fully cooperating.
"I had no knowledge of this situation until Monday morning," said Belichick, who said he was "shocked" to learn the news.
"I would say I've learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew or have talked about it in the last 40 years that I've coached in this league," Belichick said during an 8 1/2-minute opening statement during an 11 1/2-minute news conference. "I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls and process that went through."
Belichick did not specify who in the Patriots organization was responsible for the underinflated balls, or absolve anyone besides himself of potential wrongdoing.
Softer balls are generally considered easier to throw and catch, and quarterbacks, specialists and equipment managers are known to have very individualized preferences in how footballs are readied for games. Belichick said he was unaware of the process for game balls until the accusations were raised.
Belichick said he sometimes hears quarterbacks, kickers and other specialists talk about their preferences.
"I can tell you and they will tell you that there is never any sympathy from me whatsoever on that subject. Zero," Belichick said.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is expected to address reporters later Thursday.
"Tom's personal preferences on his ball, footballs, are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide," Belichick said. "I can tell you that in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure."
The NFL requires balls to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pound per square inch. Under league rules, each team provides 12 balls for use on offense. Referees approve the balls more than 2 hours before game time, then keep the balls until they're turned over to ball handlers provided by home teams just before kickoff.
Belichick said the balls used by the Patriots offense are inflated to the "12 1/2-pound range" and "any deflation would then take us under that."
Going forward, he said, the Patriots will inflate footballs to a safe level to prevent them from dropping under allowable air pressure during games.
"We will take steps in the future to make sure that we don't put ourselves in this type of situation again," he said.
The coach who has won three Super Bowls said he generally forces players to practice under bad-ball conditions.
"Anytime players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make it worse and that stops the complaints," he said. "We never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use."
The issue has drawn strong reaction from around the game and its fans as the Patriots prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona, for the NFL title.
Several players said it would not distract them in preparing for the game.
"It's unfortunate. We'd rather be celebrating our trip to the Super Bowl," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "It's important to us that we respect the game and deal with things in a way that's considered professional."
Belichick declined to answer several questions after his opening remarks, answering several of them by saying: "I've told you everything I know," and "I don't have an explanation."
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Pedro Martinez's Hall of Fame plaque will have the cap of the Boston Red Sox and John Smoltz's will have the Atlanta Braves.
The Hall of Fame made the announcement Thursday. It said last week that Randy Johnson's will have the cap of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Craig Biggio, the other player to be inducted on July 26, did not present an issue: He spent his entire 20-year major league career with the Houston Astros.
Jeff Gordon, the charismatic four-time NASCAR champion who became the face of the stock car racing as the sport exploded in popularity a generation ago, will retire as a full-time driver after the 2015 season.
ATHENS — Sparked by a 9.95 on vault from Brandie Jay, the No. 7 Georgia Gymdogs defeated Missouri 195.800-195.225 on Friday night in their Southeastern Conference opener in Stegeman Coliseum. The Gymdogs improve to 1-1 (1-0 SEC), while the Tigers fall to 2-1 (0-1 SEC).
The NFL says its investigation into whether the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game is ongoing after a report Tuesday night claimed the league found 11 balls were not properly inflated.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president for football operations, told The Associated Press that the "investigation is currently underway and we're still awaiting findings."
Vincent was responding to an ESPN report that cited anonymous league sources saying 11 of the Patriots' 12 allotted game footballs were under-inflated by 2 pounds per square inch of air. ESPN did not say how that occurred.
Vincent said earlier Tuesday he expected the probe to be concluded by the end of the week. The last thing the NFL wants after a difficult season off the field is a potential cheating scandal that disrupts Super Bowl week. New England faces Seattle on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.
The Patriots, who beat Indianapolis 45-7 for the AFC title, said they were cooperating with the league, and a Seahawks spokesman said the team would defer to the league on the matter.
The NFL began looking into the issue not only because doctoring the footballs could provide a competitive advantage, but because it would compromise the integrity of the game.
Deflating a football can change the way it's gripped by a player or the way it travels through the air. Under NFL rules, each team provides balls each game for use when its offense is on the field. The balls are inspected before the game by the officiating crew, then handled during the game by personnel provided by the home team.
Social media responses were quick late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
"11 of 12 balls under-inflated can anyone spell cheating!!! #Just Saying" was the tweet from Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice.
"So we get to play the game again or nah? ??" tweeted Colts cornerback Darius Butler.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on ESPN radio in Milwaukee that he didn't like how referees who inspected balls before games take air out of the game balls.
"I have a major problem with the way it goes down, to be honest with you," Rodgers said. "The majority of the time, they take air out of the football. I think that, for me, is a disadvantage."
Rodgers said referees have a set range in which they "like to set game balls," and that he always liked the higher end of the range because of his grip.
"I just have a hard time throwing a flat football," Rodgers said. He thought a slight majority of quarterbacks like footballs on the flatter side.
"My belief is that there should be a minimum air-pressure requirement but not a maximum," Rodgers said. "There's no advantage, in my opinion. We're not kicking the football. There's no advantage in having a pumped-up football."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said the investigation is the least of his worries. And tight end Rob Gronkowski tweeted a photo of himself spiking the ball with the words: "WARNING GRONKING MAY CAUSE DEFLATION."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday deferred questions about the investigation, saying reporters should ask league officials. Belichick earlier said he wasn't aware there was an issue until Monday morning and promised to "cooperate fully with whatever the league wants us to, whatever questions they ask."
Belichick, of course, was fined $500,000 in 2007 for having an assistant spy on the New York Jets' defensive signals.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater said the Patriots "try to do things the right way. We work hard at our jobs, our professions, to be successful and it's unfortunate that things like this come up, but that's life, that's the world we live in."
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he did not notice issues with the football and didn't specify when asked whether the Colts had reported the issue to officials.
"We talk just like they talk to officials (before the game)," he said. "We have an opportunity to talk to the officials about a lot of things."
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman said the balls didn't feel different than usual.
And defensive tackle Vince Wilfork seemed amused by the matter and didn't shed any light on it.
"I don't know anything about that," he said. "I don't touch footballs. I tackle people."
AP Sports Writers Howard Ulman, Tim Booth and Genaro C. Armas contributed to this report.
The Atlanta Hawks are doing just about everything right these days.
ROME — Kayla Beavers calmly drained two free throws with six seconds remaining to help the Lee women’s basketball team defeat rival Shorter University, 53-50 on Thursday evening.
Matias Dominguez was like most kids who fall in love with golf and dream of one day playing in the Masters.
Not many others faced such long odds. For starters, Dominguez grew up in Santiago, Chile, a country where golf is an afterthought and only one Chilean had ever competed at Augusta National. That was Enrique Orellana, who missed the cut 51 years ago.
Until recently, Dominguez, 22, wasn't even sure he wanted to golf for a living. He is a senior at Texas Tech, not exactly a golf powerhouse, and Dominguez is fourth in scoring average for the Red Raiders after four tournaments in the fall.
One chance was all he needed — the Latin American Amateur Championship. One week of great golf left him close to tears.
With a spot in the Masters riding on the outcome, Dominguez closed with a 1-under 71 Sunday at Pilar Golf Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, winning the inaugural event and earning the right to be among Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and his golfing idol, Phil Mickelson, at Augusta in April.
"I always told to myself, 'I hope one day I can get to the Masters,'" Dominguez said in a conference call after his victory. "Hopefully, I can just share that moment with all my friends and my family, because we all grew up with that same dream. ... I just can't believe right now that dream just became true."
That was the idea behind the Latin American Amateur, which was patterned after the Asia-Pacific Amateur.
Augusta National, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association founded the tournament with hopes it would inspire an entire region — South and Central America and the Caribbean. It comes with perks such as a spot in the Masters, the final stage of qualifying for the British Open and U.S. Open and a berth in the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.
Without the Latin American Amateur, the only way for someone like Dominguez to play in the Masters would be as a top professional or to win an established amateur event open to the best in the world.
"Right before they announced this tournament, it seemed almost impossible for a Latin American to get there," Dominguez said. "And then here I am today. Just saying, 'I'm going to the Masters and play with everyone there,' it's just shocking."
Who could have imagined the road from Santiago to Magnolia Lane would lead through Lubbock, Texas?
Dominguez is in his final semester at Texas Tech, where his greatest achievement was leading them to a spot in the NCAA Championship as a sophomore. He is starting to branch out with academics and figure out where golf fits into the equation.
Asked for similarities between Santiago and the open spaces of West Texas, Dominguez broke out into laughter.
"Almost none," he said. "Probably if you want to find something that is the opposite of Chile, you would have to say Lubbock, Texas. But it's been a great journey. Lubbock has been something new, totally new people and new culture. It broadens my mind and makes me learn from other cultures and people, and it's been awesome for me. I wouldn't change it for anything."
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne has talked about using the reputation and resources of the Masters to help attract players from Asia — and now Latin America — to the game. The idea was to identify good golfers, which could create heroes for younger kids from the region.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur already has produced Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who made the cut at Augusta both times he qualified and now is among the top players in the world. The Latin American Amateur is just getting started, but the goal is the same.
South America has produced two major champions — Roberto de Vicenzo (1967 British Open) and Angel Cabrera (2007 U.S. Open, 2009 Masters), both from Argentina. Chile's best golfer is Felipe Aguilar, who is No. 160 in the world and plays the European Tour.
Aguilar and Mickelson are Dominguez's golfing inspirations, he says, mainly because they always smile. And no one was beaming quite like Dominguez on Sunday.
"Everyone in Chile is just going crazy," he said. "It was something that for all of us, we thought it was almost impossible. ... We were waiting a few more years for the next player to get into the Masters. I think everyone is in shock right now that we got another Chilean guy playing the Masters after like 50 years.
"Hopefully, I can represent them the best I can at the Masters."
The nickname Big Dawg gets tossed around a good bit in sports, but for Calhoun’s Landon Rice, it fits extremely well.
Warriors win shows big progress
A few things to watch this week in the Southeastern Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 1 Kentucky at Alabama: The Wildcats were back to their dominant ways during a blowout victory over Missouri on Tuesday following two surprisingly close games against Mississippi and Texas A&M to open SEC play. Now Kentucky faces a more challenging test on the road against Alabama, which has a 10-0 record this season at Coleman Coliseum.
LOOKING AHEAD: Georgia is showing signs that the Bulldogs are on their way back into contention. The Bulldogs entered the SEC schedule as prime NCAA tournament contenders but opened conference play with losses to Arkansas and LSU. They bounced back Wednesday by winning at Vanderbilt for the first time since 2005-06. Now Georgia enters a crucial stretch of its schedule, with three of the next four games at home, including intriguing matchups against Florida and Mississippi. Guard Kenny Gaines has been very good for the Bulldogs in SEC play, averaging 15.3 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Auburn forward Cinmeon Bowers is averaging a double-double in his first season in the SEC since arriving from Chipola (Florida) College. The 6-foot-7, 278-pound forward leads the SEC in rebounding and already has 10 double-doubles and a couple of 17-rebound performances this season. Bowers had 20 points and 14 rebounds Saturday in Auburn's 85-79 victory over Missouri.
KEY STATS: Kentucky's 86-37 wipeout of Missouri on Tuesday represented the Wildcats' largest margin of victory in an SEC game since a 106-44 blowout of Vanderbilt in 2003. Missouri's 37 points were the fewest that Kentucky had allowed in an SEC game since a 50-36 triumph over Mississippi State in 1987. ... Kentucky owns a 100-5 record during John Calipari's coaching tenure when it has allowed 63 or fewer points. The Wildcats are 50-0 under Calipari when they allow 55 or fewer points. ... Mississippi State has lost 16 straight regular-season SEC games dating back to last season. Third-year MSU coach Rick Ray has a 7-32 record in regular-season SEC play.
ON THE WOMEN'S SIDE: No. 10 Kentucky must play the rest of the season without starting point guard Janee Thompson, who broke a bone in her left leg Sunday during the Wildcats' 68-60 loss to top-ranked South Carolina. Thompson had been averaging 10.1 points per game. Joining South Carolina and Kentucky in this week's Top 25 are No. 6 Tennessee, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 18 Georgia.
Complied by AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi.
A pair of former Calhoun standouts each competed and made their mark for Samford at the team's indoor season opener at the UAB Invitational at Birmingham Crossplex last Friday and Saturday.
ATHENS — The No. 7 Georgia Gymdogs fell to No. 8 Michigan in their first meet of the season, 196.600-195.600, on Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 10,224 at Stegeman Coliseum.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Ohio State can add the newest version of the national championship trophy to a case that already has a bunch of the old ones.
DALLAS (AP) — Ohio State and Oregon will meet in a game that has never been played for a trophy that has never been raised.
The winner Monday night in North Texas can be called the truest champion in the history of major college football.
The first College Football Playoff national championship game matches the second-seeded Ducks and fourth-seeded Buckeyes at AT&T Stadium.
"It's college football history," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Sunday during a news conference with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, with that new championship trophy sitting in between them.
The days of bowls, polls and the BCS having the final say about who is No. 1 are over. The playoff that fans wanted for so long — and finally got — will determine a champion without a doubt.
Oregon (13-1) and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota are in search of the program's first national title, the last remaining goal for a school that has barged onto the national stage over the last two decades with ostentatious flare and flashy uniforms.
Ohio State (13-1) is shooting for national championship No. 5, but the first under coach Urban Meyer, who returned to his home state three years ago to take over a college football goliath that was looking to start its next golden age.
Tradition rich vs. cutting edge.
The Ducks from the Pac-12 raced into the championship game with an emphatic 59-20 victory against Florida State last week at the Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes from the Big Ten upset Alabama 42-35 at the Sugar Bowl to cap an improbable rebound from an early season loss and injuries to two star quarterbacks.
"This is much more of a business trip, this time around," Ohio State All-America defensive end Joey Bosa said. "Last week we went, we hung out and had some fun. This week it's all about business; no going out, no messing around. We're just preparing."
Ohio State has won 12 straight since stumbling at home to Virginia Tech in September.
The Ducks have won nine in a row since, all by double-digit margins, since losing to Arizona in October.
"We've been playing, both our program and Ohio State have played with that kind of early loss, and your back was against the wall to get to this point every play of every game, the entire rest of the season, it was to the those words: do or die," Helfrich said.
For decades college football's best team was picked by poll voters and postseason matchups were set with little regard for determining a national champion.
The Bowl Championship Series was implemented in 1998, a system designed to create a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game to end the season. It was an awkward and imperfect step in the right direction, often leaving everyone involved unsatisfied. The conference commissioners who ran the BCS relented a couple of years ago and decided to create a four-team playoff.
Here are some things to know about the ultimate winner-take-all-game:
Mariota can become the seventh Heisman Trophy winner since 1996 to win the national championship in the same season he won the Heisman. Florida State's Jameis Winston did it last season.
Another victory in what is very likely his last college game would top off a career that can go down as one of the best in college football history.
Mariota has thrown for 10,463 yards, 103 touchdowns passes and just 13 interceptions while winning 35 games in three seasons as Oregon's starter.
"Our No. 1 concern is their quarterback," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes hope to contain the fast-moving Mariota with a defensive line, led by Bosa, that is among the best in the nation.
"They've got an awesome front seven," Mariota said. "Big, physical guys that really control the line of scrimmage."
Meyer can become the second coach in college football history to win national championships with two schools, joining Nick Saban, who won the BCS title in 2003 with LSU and then three more titles with Alabama.
Meyer won national titles with Florida in 2006 and 2008. A third championship would make Meyer the ninth coach in college football's poll era (dating to 1936) to win at least three championships. Bear Bryant leads with the six he won at Alabama.
The Ducks will be down their most productive receiver over the last two games.
Darren Carrington is ineligible after failing an NCAA administered drug test. He is second on the team in yards receiving with 704 and averages 19 yards per catch. He's been especially good lately.
In the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona and the Rose Bowl against Florida State, Carrington had 14 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
Oregon also lost Devon Allen, second on the team in catches (41) and touchdown receptions (seven), at the Rose Bowl to a knee injury.
"We don't have things in our system that it's, hey, we need to throw this guy the ball in this play period," Helfrich said. "That doesn't exist."
OH-FER OHIO STATE
This will be the ninth meeting between Oregon and Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won the previous eight.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
Whether it’s spiking a ball over the net on the volleyball court or sending an opposing player’s shot back where it came from with a block on the basketball court, Sonoraville’s Haley Ponder is sure to be going at it all-out or 100 percent.
Hawks best hope for Atlanta championship
Several former local standouts from Calhoun and Gordon County have taken their game to the college level and are making an impact for their teams this basketball season. Here’s a roundup of how several former locals are doing on the court at their respective schools:
NEW YORK — Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, a trio of star pitchers who dominated in an era of offense, were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday along with Craig Biggio, the first time since 1955 writers selected four players in one year.
NEW ORLEANS — Cardale Jones came through again at the Sugar Bowl in his second career start and Ezekiel Elliott ran for 230 yards, leading Ohio State to a 42-35 upset of top-ranked Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday night.