According to SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw they did get the call right.
Here's what happened. Down by 3 (16-13), South Carolina was driving. South Carolina did not have any timeouts remaining. Bruce Ellington caught a pass and was tackled at the 30 yard line (well beyond the first down marker). On TV (and in the pic to the right...which is very small), there appeared to be 2 seconds on the clock when he went down.
On the field, the refs did not appear to signal to stop the clock (for the first down) until there was no time remaining and thus the game ended. Spurrier was slightly animated calling for a replay. The refs ruled the game over and that was the end.
After the game, the SEC put out the following statement:
According to rule 3.3.2e, when a team is awarded a first down, the game clock is stopped when the covering official gives the timeout signal. Based on review, the covering official followed proper procedure.
Today, Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News reached out to Shaw to see if he would elaborate on the explanation that the refs got it right.
Here's the relevant part of the exchange between Solomon and Shaw:
Shaw said today there is "no question" Ellington's knee was down with one second left. The question then becomes how reasonable it can be humanly expected for the covering official to signal for a timeout because of the first down.
"The covering official very quickly squared it off, got the mark, recognized it was beyond the first-down marker and started to stop the clock," Shaw said. "But when his arm first made a movement, the clock was at 0:00. That is what the replay guy sees."
NCAA rules allow for the replay official to correct "egregious" errors, including those involving the game clock.
"Let's say (Ellington) hit the ground with five or six seconds left and our crew did not stop the clock, that's an egregious error," Shaw said. "This one was not. The covering official is very, very quick stopping the clock. He was dead on. There was perfect protocol by the covering official. That's why no time was added."
Shaw said the Auburn-South Carolina ending differed from the Texas-Nebraska finish at the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game. In that game, a Big 12 crew put one second back on the clock for the Longhorns to kick the winning field goal and reach the BCS Championship Game.
"That was an incomplete pass where you look to see when the ball hit the ground," Shaw said.
Some of you have asked why the replay official did not look at the Auburn-South Carolina finish. Shaw said the play was "absolutely" reviewed, but because people were pouring on the field, the replay official was only prepared to hit the buzzer signaling a stoppage if the play was overturned.
"Trust me, our replay guy was intently focused on the play and looking at it," Shaw said. "In this case, a coach (Steve Spurrier) was out of timeouts and couldn't challenge the play, but it's still being reviewed. What we tell officials is if it's 0:00 (on the clock) and the score is eight points or less, the crew will head to where they're going to leave but they won't leave.
"They'll sit there and the replay guy will come down on walkie-talkie and say, 'I've looked at it, we're not stopping it, you're free to go.' That's what happened here. Our ref had a conversation with Coach Spurrier while waiting."
The above photo came from 30fps.mocksession.com