Garrett Kauppila’s debut for Air Force football was almost a brief one.
The safety was flagged for targeting early in the second quarter against VMI on a call that was then overturned by replay.
VMI quarterback Austin Coulling had rolled to his right when cornerback Robert Bullard got ahold of him just as Coulling appeared to begin a knee-first slide. Kauppila, closing in, hit Coulling high across the body as he went down.
The Keydets were still awarded 15 yards, by rule, even when the targeting portion of the call was waved off.
Coulling stayed on the ground and was strapped to a back brace before being carted off the field. The Roanoke Times reported he was able to travel back with the team Saturday night, though his status for the next game is in question.
The play apparently elicited a strong reaction from VMI, as Air Force radio announcer Jim Arthur said on Twitter that a “VMI Coach screamed at AF Coaches in tunnel after hit on his QB. Refs had to hold him back.”
As for Kauppila, he said his mind turned to former teammate Weston Steelhammer when he heard the initial call. Steelhammer was twice ejected from games for targeting, with the Mountain West’s head of officiating later using one of the calls as an example of an incorrect application of the rule.
Here’s Kauppila’s full reaction to the call on Tuesday:
“Aww. The good ol’ targeting. My mind definitely went to, ‘Well, I guess this is how Wes felt.’ There was no way I was intending to do anything malicious at all. When you hear that and you know what entails in college football with the suspension and things like that – and of course the penalty, which you never want to do to your team. I was kind of set back by it at first, just because I felt like there was no way I was intending to do anything malicious, which is the point of the penalty. It was a late slide and I did my best to not hit him where I wasn’t supposed to. I mean, I was playing full speed. I was going to come across and hit him right about the hip. When he did a late tuck-to-his-knees slide I ended up a little bit higher than anticipated, but I’m glad the replay showed what I thought it would, which was there was nothing malicious about it. I think I ended up avoiding his head. I’m glad they saw the same thing. I’m glad I didn’t hit him in the head, and I hope he’s OK. I didn’t intend for anything like that. You never want to see anyone get hurt. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I’ve faced injuries. You never want to see someone on the ground. You play football as hard as you can with the intent of being tough and going full speed at all times. To see him leave the game wasn’t ideal for anyone. But the targeting call – I’m glad it didn’t happen, that I didn’t target. The fact that the flag had to stay, uhh. That’s just the rule. The ref even came and talked to me and said there was nothing, no personal foul or anything and the play looked good. I was like, ‘They just got a first down. All right.’”