September 20, 2010

Pedersen: To punt or not to punt?

Rod Pedersen

“The Call” or “The Punt” or whatever you want to call it, is something that will be debated by football fans in this province for a very long time to come.

To what am I referring? Well it all went down on what appeared to be the last play of the Riders’ home game against Calgary on Friday night.

With the game tied 37-37 and 0:03 left to play the Riders had the ball at the Stampeders’ 28-yard line. Initially head coach Ken Miller opted to have kicker Luca Congi attempt a 35-yard field goal to win the game. However after a Calgary timeout, Miller sent out his punt team and elected to have punter Eddie Johnson try to hit a 48-yard punt for a rouge.

As it turned out, Johnson didn’t strike the ball well and it was returned out of the endzone negating a chance to score a single point. That had Rider fans pounding their fists, screaming at their TVs and scratching their heads in the stands.

The game went to overtime, which the Riders eventually won 43-37 to pull off an upset of the first-place Stampeders. But it wasn’t over there.

“The Punt” has been debated endlessly across the country in the days since, by sportswriters, sportscasters, CFL personnel and fans of just about every team.

“A timeout’s supposed to freeze the kicker not the coach. Lol,” one former Rider wrote me via text.

Miller seemed surprised by the opposition to the decision.

“I thought certainly Eddie would punt it out of the endzone for the single,” Miller asserted. “I know there are times a field goal can go off the post for no score. I talked to Eddie after the game and he said he’d do it 99 times out of 100 but he couldn’t get it off in that situation. Absolutely I’d do it again.”

That explanation wasn’t enough for many CFL observers including Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons who called the move ‘boneheaded’. TSN analyst Dave Naylor went so far as to say, “I think there’s legitimate reason for concern on how decisions are being made on the sidelines of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.”

My take? Well I would’ve kicked the field goal, but the extent of my game-changing football decisions has been limited to the Madden ‘11 video game in front of my big screen TV. The same goes for many of you I’m sure, which is a stark contrast to the pressure on Miller as head coach of Canada’s Team.

If nothing else, in his three seasons on the Rider sidelines Ken Miller has proven to be the CFL’s ultimate gambler with no hesitation to roll the dice. Sometimes it works (going with an unproven Darian Durant in 2009) and sometimes it doesn’t (going with an unproven Michael Bishop in 2008).

Fortunately for the Riders they came out on top on this occasion. What will happen next time? No one knows and that’s what makes being a Rider fan so much fun.