ROHNERT PARK — Did Moziah Ward fumble the ball or not, and did Petaluma recover it with nothing but the end zone in front of a Trojans defender?

The questions don’t matter because an inadvertent whistle negated the play in discussion and forced a replay of the down.

And in the end, what could have been a fumble recovered for a touchdown turned into a second-chance for Rancho Cotate, which capitalized with a big fourth-down conversion catch from University of Louisville recruit Chris Taylor-Yamanoha to seal the game for the Cougars, a 35-28 victory against Petaluma.

“Chris had to make a great play on that slant route and then he had to find a way to make a first down after he made the dang catch,” Cougars coach Ed Conroy said. “He had to find a way to make the first down.”

But it was almost a first down that never happened had the controversial play that was basically erased from the books hadn’t been whistled dead.

The play in question started as a first-and-10 for Rancho (9-3), and as Ward scampered down the right sideline for a first down, a big hit from a Petaluma defender jarred the ball loose, where it appeared to be recovered by Trojans defensive back Luke Wheless, who had nothing but open field in front of him as he raced down the sideline, only to have the play be called back.

This was where it got interesting.

A whistle was blown sometime between Ward’s hit and Wheless’ fumble recovery. The officials discussed the play and ruled that the whistle was blown inadvertently. According to game referee Dominic Bosque, when the ball is loose and there is an inadvertent whistle, the rule says that the play is negated and the down played over.

Here’s how Petaluma coach Rick Krist witnessed the play:

“I saw a fumble. I saw a kid pick it up with nobody in front of him. I saw — I heard a whistle. I told him to keep running, but he stopped because of the whistle.”

And, no, Krist isn’t happy.

“No, it was a fumble. That was a fumble,” he said.

Ward said he was down.

“On the final run, I was definitely down,” he said. “The (official) looked at me and called the play down right there. And then I don’t know if you can replay a play, I don’t even know how that rule works. I’m just glad we won.”

Conroy said he didn’t know what the rule was either.

“The one (official) who had the inadvertent whistle had the ball down, the other three, for sure, said the ball was fumbled out before he went down,” Conroy said. “To me, it sounds like an inadvertent whistle, you should have the ball where it goes down and the play stopped, but it all worked out.”

It worked out for the Cougars, who advance to play Analy at Santa Rosa High School in a Division 3 semifinal this Friday at 7 p.m.