The Edmonton Eskimos' 25-7 victory over Winnipeg Saturday wasn't exactly the prettiest CFL game this year; both teams exited it with 2-9 records, and there was plenty of flawed football on display from both sides. However, it did have one spectacular moment with something almost never seen in football, which could perhaps prove inspirational for other teams. Here's video of what happened on a muffed snap to Blue Bombers' quarterback Max Hall late in the fourth quarter:
Yes, that's a group of Eskimos' players kicking the ball down the field to set up a touchdown (although it was eventually nullified thanks to a loose-ball interference penalty), and yes, that's perfectly legal. Here's the story of what happened, from Alicja Siekerska of The Edmonton Journal:
With the ball loose on the ground, defensive end Odell Willis saw an opportunity. Inspired by a similar play he remembered from a B.C. Lions’ game in 2009, Willis decided to kick the ball up the field.
“What I wanted to do originally is get it out of field goal range, because even if they did get the ball back, they would have to drive it down the whole half of the field,” said Willis. “Really, I was just trying to make a heads-up play for my team. Plus, I didn’t want to fall on my shoulder.”
But once he kicked it, Willis quickly realized he actually had an opportunity to score.
“I was like, yes, I’m going to finish scoring,” he said, recalling how he began to chase after the ball he just kicked away.
“But all of a sudden, the weight of the world started pulling on my back. So I was like, forget it.”
With Willis out of the play, Marcus Howard followed up and, like his fellow defensive end, kicked the ball forward to keep it alive. When he eventually picked the ball up, after hearing someone yell, “pitch it back”, he threw it over his head into the field.
“Now that I think about it,” Howard recalled after the game, “it might have been the Winnipeg player that said that.”
Regardless, Howard managed to keep the ball in play, then linebacker Damaso Munoz saved it from going out of bounds and it went sailing into the hands of linebacker Eric Samuels, who walked the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.
While the play was eventually nullified thanks to Howard being called for interference (he shoves a Winnipeg player at 0:12, which is likely the infraction in question here) and wouldn't have mattered much anyway thanks to the 25-7 lead the Eskimos already held, this could provide an interesting potential tactic for teams to potentially use more often. It might come in particularly handy on fumbles near the line of scrimmage; instead of a defensive lineman just falling on the ball to give his team possession at that spot, if he boots it down the field the way Willis did, that could potentially result in much better field position and perhaps even a touchdown the way it did here.
Just keep in mind that this only works north of the border. In the NFL, kicking a loose ball is a penalty (and one that now causes an offensive team to lose a down following a 2012 rule change). The difference is likely thanks to the CFL's closer historical ties to rugby, where kicks are often used to advance the ball. It's another only-in-the-CFL situation, but one that led to a fun play to watch Saturday and one that could potentially lead to some interesting strategies going forward.