The head of the Northern Virginia Football Officials Association has formally apologized to Potomac for taking a touchdown away from the Panthers in their 13-10, home overtime loss to Osbourn on Friday night. The officials, NVFOA Commissioner Dennis Hall said Tuesday, should not have reversed the touchdown call after the extra point had been kicked.

However, Hall said, the touchdown that enabled Potomac to take a short-lived 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter should not have been allowed in the first place.

"I guess you could say they did the morally correct thing, but they did it at the wrong time," Hall said. "To have a correctable error, you have to do it before the ball is live again. If they had changed [the call] before the try for point, they would have been correct."

The controversial play took place when a Potomac kickoff dribbled inside the Osbourn 5-yard line. Two Osbourn players watched the ball, apparently thinking it was a dead ball or assuming it would roll into the end zone or trickle out of bounds. A Potomac player dived on the ball, which bounced into the end zone, where it was recovered by another Potomac player.

The officials initially ruled touchdown, the extra point was kicked, and Potomac lined up to kick off. At that point, the officials huddled and disallowed the touchdown because no player had possession of the ball in the field of play. When the ball reached the end zone, it should have been ruled a touchback, with Osbourn taking possession at its own 20-yard line.

"If the referee had any doubts, he should have brought the crew together," Hall said. "If you don't do it by the rule, you could come back 10 plays later and say we made a mistake. That's why the rules have to cover it the way they do."

Hall and an aide went to Potomac on Monday to meet with Potomac Coach Ben Stutler and other Potomac representatives to review the game film and the officials' rulings. Stutler and his staff were livid at the officials Friday night and wanted to play the game under protest, but were told no such remedy existed.

Stutler declined to comment Tuesday.

"I really have nothing to say," he said. "The game's over and the results are the results, and we just have to go on and prepare for our next game."

Hall sent Stutler and the Potomac team an apology by e-mail Monday, saying in part, "I can only imagine the devastation and heartfelt sorrow your players must have gone through after this incident. It is hard enough for an adult to deal with such an occurrence; therefore the sense of frustration for a teenager must be almost unbearable. I must commend your players on staying with their game plan and playing at an intense level until the end. I must also offer them an apology for the incident that caused them such grief and anguish."

By request, Hall forwarded his letter to The Post Tuesday. He said this is the first time during his three-year tenure as commissioner that he has written a letter of apology to a team.

"We made a mistake and we have to own up to it," he said.

Stutler was still voicing his displeasure about the call as officials left the field Friday night following Osbourn's winning field goal in overtime, shouting, "You changed the game!" Several minutes later, in his office, he said, "That's the whole game. You can't take seven points off with 17- and 18-year-old kids and don't think it's going to affect them."

After the touchdown reversal, Potomac had more penalty yards (40) than offensive yards (12). Osbourn's three scoring possessions covered 56 yards.