September 24, 2018

O’Leary: Eastern squads are getting kicked in and out of games

Adam Gagnon/

At 8-5, the Ottawa REDBLACKS are tied for the league’s second-best record, with their seat atop the East Division growing increasingly comfortable.

They wouldn’t be there without Lewis Ward.

On Saturday, the five-foot-seven rookie kicker made all seven of his field goal attempts. Counting the convert he kicked on his team’s lone touchdown, he had 22 of his team’s 28 points in the REDBLACKS’ win over Edmonton.

» Bio: Lewis Ward
»  Lewis Ward breaks single-season consecutive field goal mark
» O’Leary: Are the REDBLACKS starting to find themselves?

(Adam Gagnon,

That game on its own would be impressive, but it’s just the latest chapter in a book of superlatives for the 26-year-old from Kingston. We all know the background by now. While he was putting his name all over the Ottawa Gee-Gees record book, he worked as a security guard at TD Place. He was supposed to be an extra body for training camp, but head coach Rick Campbell and special teams coordinator Bob Dyce found a diamond in the rough. As’s Don Landry pointed out on Monday, Ward could become the first placekicker to win the league’s outstanding rookie award.

Week 15 was the full spectrum of the kicker’s life.

There was Ward, extending his consecutive made field goal streak to 37, just two away from Rene Paredes’ record of 39, booting his team to another win. There was Hamilton, showing a lack of trust in Lirim Hajrullahu and having him punt with his team up seven with a minute left, rather than go for a 44-yard field goal in BC. The Lions, of course, went the length of the field after the single and scored the touchdown, then added a two-point convert that tied the game and will live on in highlight reel infamy probably for years to come. The Ticats lost in OT.

Then there’s the team that Hajrullahu used to play for.

After he hit a 32-yard field goal to win the Argos the Grey Cup last year in Ottawa, the team let Hajrullahu walk in free agency. He took the quick trip down the QEW to Hamilton and the kicking game hasn’t been the same in Toronto since.

Ronnie Pfeffer beat out veteran Swayze Waters in camp, but couldn’t carry his accuracy over to game situations, making just four of eight attempts before going on the six-game injured list. Zack Medeiros stepped in and brought improved play but he’s missed some costly ones this year. He had a 54-yard would-be game-winner go off the upright in Montreal this year and with the game on the line again on Saturday night against the Riders, he sailed a 51-yarder wide to the left. That came after a missed 36-yard attempt with the game tied at 27.

Riders’ kicker Brett Lauther hit from 56-yards for the win.

Medeiros is under evaluation this week with an ankle injury. The team signed former Montreal Carabins Vanier Cup winner Felix Menard-Briere to their practice roster on Monday and may have to throw him into their game Friday against Calgary.

The REDBLACKS would be a much different team this season without Ward, just like the Argos could be at least a six-win team — they lost by a point in Edmonton in Week 4 and had a missed field goal — had they made field goals when they were needed. It should only strengthen the case for Ward, if not as an all-star then at least as the rookie of the year.