One of the most unique elements of the CFL is the rules around the kicking game, which have led to everything from last-second scrambles to avoid a rouge to attempted punts to tie. On Saturday night in the Ottawa Redblacks-Saskatchewan Roughriders game, we got to see those rules lead to a play that was historic in two senses. It marked Ottawa's first touchdown at home, and it also marked the first punt recovered by an onside player for a touchdown in over a decade. Here's video of what happened:
This worked so well for Ottawa because of the trickery involved. The play sets up as a third-and-three with Ottawa going for the first down, and about the only indication anything's different is that the team subbed in backup quarterback Thomas DeMarco; that's not that uncommon in short-yardage situations, but it is a little unusual with three yards to go. Saskatchewan still sets up in a standard defence, though, and DeMarco does very well to get the punt off quickly and get enough distance on it to put it into the end zone. Receiver Dobson Collins also times his release well, ensuring he's onside when DeMarco kicks the ball. (This is where the differences between American and Canadian football come in; while a quarterback could still punt this way in the U.S., members of the punting team cannot recover it unless it hits someone else first, while in Canada, any onside player (so, the kicker and anyone behind him at the time of the kick, Collins in this case) can recover the ball.) Collins then races down the field and jumps on the ball in the end zone.
Of course, this still required the element of surprise. Saskatchewan's Tyron Brackenridge was closer to the ball than Collins and could have fallen on it in the end zone to concede just one point instead of seven. The slow, covering jog towards the ball from Wallace Miles (84), who wasn't onside and couldn't recover, may have fooled Brackenridge into thinking this was a normal punt before Collins came flying in to notch the touchdown. It helps that a play like this hasn't worked in a long while; CBC's Doug Harrison writes that the last successful such play came in 1999. We have seen other attempts at onside kick recovery, though, and some that have also involved an even-more unusual only-in-Canadian-football rule, the open-field kick (a pass, then a punt). Here's Calgary's attempt at using that last September:
Crazy plays don't always work out, of course, as that Calgary attempt shows. One the Redblacks tried later on Saturday, an onside punt (punting it 10 yards and hoping you recover), didn't work at all. We've also seen some memorable trick play failures this year, such as Edmonton's fake punt attempt. Still, these plays have huge value, and they help provide plenty of unexpected moments. They also make for something opposing defences and special teams units have to prepare for, which can boost the effectiveness of a team's regular punts or offensive plays. If opponents are worried about stopping the tricks, they aren't always focused on playing solid fundamental football. This play worked out superbly well for Ottawa, and it's something other teams should consider going forward.