Ottawa’s special teams continue to dominate, past and present success

Things may not be the brightest here in Ottawa when you look at our record and what’s happened in the last few games, but if you look closely, there are many good attributes when it comes to the Redblacks. Sitting at 3-10, the Redblacks are in need of a miracle to make it into the playoffs. That miracle being, winning 4 of the last 5 regular season games, while Edmonton loses their final 5 games. If that miracle happens, the Redblacks would be 3rd place in the East playing in the East Semi-Final game on November 10th.

Well to most of us it seems impossible, so I’ll give you some good news. Our special teams is elite. Not only this year, but every single year.

Lets all go back to July 18 2014, the Toronto Argonauts came to Ottawa to play the Ottawa Redblacks for the first time ever. While the Redblacks sat at 0-2, Ricky Ray and his Argos were the favorite winning one of the previous three games. Getting ready for the first Ottawa Redblacks home game was kicker, Brett Maher. Making only 3 of 5 field goals already on the season, the fans were worried for his week 4 performance. The positive point, Maher wasn’t worried. Bringing his positive mentality onto the field, Maher went 6 for 6 on field goals while punting the ball 6 times for a total of 307 yards. Brett Maher’s six field goals won the game for Ottawa, scoring just 18 points, the Redblacks won their first franchise home game 18-17 against the Toronto Argonauts.

Unfortunately for the Redblacks, it was one of just two wins that season. The 2-16 season may have been tough for the team, but Maher went on to the NFL. After going 6 for 6 in the home opener, scouts must have had an eye on him. Once he went 25 for 25 on his converts, it must’ve been a no brainier.

#3 Brett Maher practices his kick during the Redblack’s practice in Ottawa, June 26, 2014 at Keith Harris Stadium, Carleton University. (Jean Levac / Ottawa Citizen) ORG XMIT: 0627 redblacks

Once Maher was gone to the NFL, it was time to get ourselves a new kicker. The Redbacks went out and got Chris Milo. Chris Milo, who was already in the league for four years at the time kicked for Ottawa in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Milo kicked the ball 34 times, making 31 of them and went on to lose in the Grey Cup. Along with his 2015 season, he also won the Grey Cup with Ottawa in 2016. In the 2016 season, Milo made 47 of 58 field goals while kicking a career long 55 yard field goal in the season opener against the Edmonton Eskimos.

Just before the 2017 training camp, Milo had been released by the Redblacks and piced up to be a scout of the Edmonton Eskimos. For the Redblacks, a familiar face came in. Brett Maher was back to take care of all kicking duties for the Redblacks. Maher showed excellence in Ottawa, punting the ball 111 times for 5189 yards, which averaged 46.7 yards each punt. Punting the ball seemed easy for Maher, but kicking field goals were a little bit of a challenge. Maher made 41 of 50 field goals, missing nine on the year, but showed off distance with a 53 yard field goal. His leg wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the Grey Cup, but did enough to secure the kicking job with the Dallas Cowboys.

With another departure of Maher, we were back looking for a kicker. Luckily for Ottawa, they found 3. Sergio Castillo, Lewis Ward and Richie Leone were all signed by the Redblacks to kick in training camp. Castillo, who spent time with both Winnipeg and Hamilton before coming to Ottawa had played 18 CFL games, making 39 of 47 field goals while Leone played two seasons with B.C making 65 of 90 field goals and punting the ball 216 times averaging 49.4 yards per punt. To go with the pair of kickers at training camp was rookie kicker, Lewis Ward. Lewis Ward played University for the Ottawa Gee Gees where he set records. Setting a Gee Gees record, Ward tallied up 412 career points, which also marks him at 3rd best in U Sports history. Ward also went 24 for 29 on field goals in his 2017 season at Ottawa.

In the 2018 pre-season, Richie Leone took punting responsibilities while Castillo and Ward fought out the kicking job. Going 4 for 4 in the pre-season opener, Lewis Ward won the job to kick field goals for Ottawa while Leone punted.

In week two, Ward missed his second kick of the day, which was a 48 yard field goal attempt. Luckily for Ward, this was the only miss of the season. Throughout the season, all Ward did was make field goals. Lewis Ward went 51/52 on the season, extended the “Consecutive field goals” streak from 33 to 50. Lewis also won the Rookie of the year award along with Special teams player of the year award at the awards ceremony in November.

Ward’s streak lasted until August 17th of this year when he missed which would’ve been his 70th consecutive field goal against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in Ottawa. In Lewis’ short career, he is already on pace to break more records. Ward is 83/87 hitting a career long 53 yard field goal setting his kicking percentage to 95%.

To pair with the kicking, the Redblacks’ kick return game has also been gifted. In both 2014 and 2015, Redblacks’ fans had no kick/punt return touchdowns to cheer about. Although, the wait was worth it. In 2016, Tristan Jackson returned the first punt return touchdown in Redblacks’ history. After that, return touchdowns came in bunches, in week two of the 2017 season, newcomer Diontae Spencer returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown. Also in 2017, Spencer returned 70 punts and 25 kickoffs for a grand total of 1,536 return yards. Inside those yards, 363 of those yards came in a 41-36 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on October 27th. In that game, Spencer also broke a football record. To pair with 363 return yards, Spencer also received for 133 yards, which tallied in 496 all-purpose yards. With 496 all-purpose yards, Spencer broke the record for most all-purpose yards in a single game in all leagues (CFL, NFL, NCAA).

After a record setting 2017 campaign with the Redblacks, Spencer was back with the team to tackle the 2018 season. For both Spencer and the Redblacks, the 2017 season wasn’t a fluke. In the 2018 season, Spencer had 120 special teams touches which led to 1,664 return yards, averaging approximately 13.9 yards per touch. After his 496 yard game in 2017, NFL scouts had eyes on him and his 2018 season gave them the decision. In the 2018-19 off-season, Spencer worked out with multiple NFL franchises, signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. To view more of Diontae Spencer’s journey to the NFL, you can visit the link attached to this paragraph.

Once Spencer left Ottawa, it seemed like there’d never be the same impact from the return game, but on August 2nd of this year, it was proven that there is still a spark to the team. DeVonte Dedmon, a wide receiver/kick returner for Ottawa returned two touchdowns in a game against Montreal this season which gave his stats some crazy numbers. Dedmon has played just 5 games this season, but has 38 special teams touches. With those 38 touches, he averages 20.5 yards per return totaling 781 return yards and two touchdowns. In the game vs Montreal, Dedmon returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff for 111 yards and a touchdown. He broke the franchise record for most return yards in a game with 377.

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