The Canadian Press
Given a second chance, Jeshrun Antwi wasn’t going to make any mistakes.
Antwi’s onside dribble kick which gave the Montreal Alouettes a first down in their 32-15 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS Saturday has become an internet sensation. It’s the kind of play found only in the CFL and the obscure rule has become a topic of debate.
It also gave the third-year Alouette tailback a chance for redemption after having failed to execute the same play in a game earlier this year at BC Place.
“I wasn’t going to screw it up,” Antwi said in a telephone interview this week.
Late in the first quarter Saturday, the Als were leading Ottawa 7-0 but faced a second-and-18 on their own 27-yard line. Quarterback Cody Fajardo threw Antwi a short pass behind the line of scrimmage. Antwi took several steps then softly kicked the ball so it crossed the line of scrimmage by a yard before the University of Calgary graduate pounced on it.
THANKSGIVING WEEKEND PRESENTED BY PUROLATOR
» Playoff Scenarios: Als look to host Eastern Semi-Final
» Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers’ Thanksgiving Weekend picks
» Power Rankings: See where the Als stand this week
Ruled an onside punt and recovery, Montreal was awarded a new set of downs.
Antwi, who played soccer as a kid before switching to football, wasn’t surprised when head coach Jason Maas called the play.
“I was expecting it to be called,” he said. “I was ready to go.”
Antwi took advantage of the Ottawa defenders dropping back in coverage to prevent a deep pass.
“Before I caught the ball, I was scanning the field, seeing where the defenders were at,” he said. “There shouldn’t be anybody close to me because they’re going to defend the deep route. When I caught the ball, I was looking for the yardsticks, looking for the ref.
“I took a couple of steps and kicked it, making sure it went a yard. I made sure I made contact with the ball and didn’t pick it up right away. I waited for it to get past one yard.”
It took discipline from all the Alouettes on the field for the play to work. The five down Montreal lineman couldn’t move downfield until the ball was kicked. Only Antwi or players behind him at the time of the kick could recover the ball. The Alouettes couldn’t block any REDBLACK player going after the ball.
If Antwi kicked the too far a REDBLACK could have recovered, putting Ottawa in scoring position.
“You want to kick it (far enough) you are able to recover it or knock it out of bounds,” said Antwi.
Montreal tried to fool the BC Lions with the same play on a second-and-long earlier this year. Things went awry when Antwi whiffed on the kick.
“I didn’t even touch it,” he said. “The ball didn’t touch my foot. The play looks easy to execute but it’s hard finding the fine balance between kicking just a yard past (the line of scrimmage) and making sure you don’t put too much power into it.”
Mike Benevides, BC’s special teams coordinator, has spent 25 years in the CFL as a head coach or assistant. He’s seen this particular play attempted four times — twice this year — and this was the first time it succeeded.
“It’s very difficult to run,” said Benevides. “It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s not easy to execute. You’ve got to have enough time to kick it, meaning there’s not a linebacker or a defensive back close. One of the biggest issues is just to get enough space to do it.”
Considering the low success rate, Benevides doesn’t think teams across the league will be attempting the play.
The win improved Montreal’s record to 8-7 and secured a playoff spot.
“The goal every year is to be one of the two teams playing in the Grey Cup,” said Antwi. “It hasn’t changed. We just need to keep working.”
The Alouettes host the REDBLACKS in a rematch Monday.
“They play hard, they have a great coaching staff,” Antwi said. “Those guys aren’t going to quit until the clock hits zero.”
The six-foot, 220-pound Antwi was born in Israel and lived in Ghana before he and his family moved to Calgary when he was 10. He started playing flag football in grade eight.
Antwi graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in education and sociology. Montreal selected him 48th overall in the 2019 CFL Draft. This year, playing behind William Stanback and Walter Fletcher, the 25-year-old has 33 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown. He also has eight catches for 38 yards.
Antwi thought he knew most of the rules for Canadian football but was surprised when Maas began practising the onside dribble punt during training camp.
“When he brought it up it was like, ‘Wow, this is incredible,’” he said. “I was quite surprised that nobody around the league has tried to exploit it. But I have a feeling maybe that’s about to change.”
Antwi thinks the attention the play has brought the league is good.
“For me being able to execute it and get so much attention on the Canadian Football League, I think it’s incredible,” he said.
“From our team perspective, there’s a rule in place. We tried to exploit it and it worked in our favour. Everybody has an opinion. They’re entitled to that. We don’t worry about that. We called the play, we executed it and the rest is history.”