CALGARY — For the past two seasons, Fred Bennett has been a fixture in the Calgary Stampeders secondary.
The defensive backfield has been beset by injuries over the past couple of seasons, but Bennett has been in uniform for all 22 regular-season contests since the start of the 2012 season — recording 52 tackles and three interceptions — as well as three playoff games.
But in spite of his omnipresence on defence, it’s perhaps for a pair of special teams plays that he is best known during his time so far with the Red and White.
The first came in last year’s West Division semfinal. With 12 seconds remaining in the first half, the Saskatchewan Roughriders scored a touchdown to take a 16-14 lead and were lining up for the extra point to extend the lead to three.
“The play of the game was Freddie Bennett. That was a 14-point swing. It took seven points off their scoreboard and we got the ball at the 25 and matched it down for a touchdown. That was an indication of our football team tonight — no matter how it looked, we weren’t giving up. We played to the last whistle.”
– Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel
Instead, Keon Raymond blocked the kick, which allowed Bennett to pick up the loose ball and run it 96 yards the other way for two tying points.
No doubt spurred by the turn of events, the Stamps took the ensuing kickoff and then ran one offensive play — a 29-yard run by Jon Cornish — before Rene Paredes came on to kick a go-ahead 50-yard field goal in a game Calgary went on to win.
Now, fast forward to this past Saturday and another momentum-turning special teams play by No. 8.
This time, the Stamps had just come all the way back from a 24-0 deficit against the Alouettes to take a 28-24 lead, but Montreal’s Noel Devine was threatening to turn the match in his team’s favour as he returned a kickoff 108 yards and had the end-zone looming large in front of him.
But cue Big-play Bennett. Engaged with a blocker and facing the wrong direction, Bennett managed to shake loose from his opponent and sprinted after Devine. He rapidly closed ground on the speedy Alouette and, in a perfectly executed manoeuvre, punched the ball from Devine’s grasp at about the 13-yard line. Calgary’s Alvin Bowen recovered the ball in the end-zone and, five plays later, the Stamps scored an insurance touchdown.
So, instead of being down 31-28, the Stamps had a 35-24 cushion.
“Outstanding play by Fred Bennett!” exclaimed analyst Duane Forde on the TSN broadcast.
“The play of the game was Freddie Bennett,” Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel marveled after the game. “That was a 14-point swing. It took seven points off their scoreboard and we got the ball at the 25 and matched it down for a touchdown. That was an indication of our football team tonight — no matter how it looked, we weren’t giving up. We played to the last whistle.”
There was an eruption of joy on the Stamps bench after Bennett’s timely heroics.
“Look at the effort Fred put in,” said defensive back Keon Raymond. “He’s running all the way down the field for kickoff, and then to have to chase the guy 60 or 70 yards back down the field with no quit? He just put the team on his back and showed, ‘I’m going to make that play.’
“That play by Fred Bennett shows what type of team this is — the resilience. It just shows the type of character that we have in this room. We’re not willing to give up, no matter the circumstances. That’s what we do.”
The man of the hour was modest about his achievement.
“I knew the circumstances,” Bennett said. “I just went running, and I saw the ball exposed. I felt like I had a chance. We do drills like that every day in practice.
“Fortunately for me, one of them became a realization.”