TORONTO — Big plays are an essential part of football.
A long touchdown catch, a clutch-time interception, a sack to end a drive. There are so many ways to impact a game, and the season, that everyone’s CFL All-Star bid looks different.
Week 20 again featured stellar players doing, well, stellar things. Which ones put on a show that could be All-Star-worthy? Check it out below before casting your vote for the 2023 CFL All-Star Team!
THAT BALL IS UP! OH WOW
Reggie Begelton of the Calgary Stampeders elevated to the sky to make a play in one of his team’s biggest games of the year and showcase why he might be worthy of your vote.
The receiver pinpointed the ball with several black jerseys around him and brought it down at the one-yard line to help give the Stampeders a 17-0 lead against the BC Lions.
Begelton finished the game with four catches for 66 yards and a major, pushing him to 1,119 yards and five scores on the season. It’s his second best season statistically as a Stampeder trailing only the 1,444 yards and 10 touchdowns he totalled in 2019.
The All-Star worthy performance came despite dealing with an injury that sidelined him in Week 19. His return provided the necessary boost for a suddenly streaking Calgary team that is looking to make some noise in the post-season.
THEY MAKE IT LOOK EASY
There are two absolute constants when it comes to the Toronto Argonauts quarterback play in 2023. Big plays and “Go Argos” Chad Kelly‘s first season as the Double Blue pivot has been a wildly successful one, from both a wins and losses perspective – tying the franchise record 15 wins with one more to go – to making the Argos offence must-watch TV every week.
The pivot played in Week 20 against the Saskatchewan Roughriders despite his team already being locked into a spot in the Eastern Final. He then proceeded to keep his team in contention against a desperate Green and White squad with an 18-of-25 for 275 yards performance. Kelly kept the Argos in the game and gave his backup Cameron Dukes a chance to come in and play hero, eliminating the Riders from the post-season in the process.
His efforts earned him the highest PFF passing grade of the week (87.8) as he led the league in big-time throws with three, including a 50-yard bomb to receiver Damonte Coxie that put the Argos within striking distance just before halftime. Don’t sleep on the Argos receiver as well who’s having a breakout season with 787 yards and five touchdowns in his second campaign in Toronto.
EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
Making the Timber Mart Plays of the Week this close to the end of the All-Star voting period is a surefire way of making a case for yourself. That’s what Kenny Lawler did in Week 20 taking over in the absence of teammate Dalton Schoen to the tune of six catches for 98 yards against the Edmonton Elks.
There are more than a handful of names in Winnipeg that can make a case for an All-Star bid – including of course Brady Oliveira and Nic Demski who are making history in 2023 – and Lawler is one of them after registering 844 yards and six majors over only 11 games in his return to Manitoba this season.
The veteran has a knack for making contested catches and was again pivotal in helping move the chains on Saturday, leading the league in first downs with five and placing third in yards after the catch with 49. When in doubt, throw it to Lawler’s back-shoulder and watch him make another unlikely reception.
I’LL TAKE THAT
Winnipeg has allowed a league-best 34 touchdowns after 20 weeks due to a defence that can attack opposing offences in multiple ways.
That versatility was on display in Week 20 when the Bombers finished with five sacks while also keeping Edmonton’s offence in check on the ground with only 66 yards.
No quarterback takedown was bigger than Jackson Jeffcoat‘s strip sack on Tre Ford that was returned for a major by linebacker Adam Bighill. Both are no strangers to the CFL All-Star team, with Jeffcoat making an appearance in 2021 while Bighill has six bids under his belt.
Plays like that can often shift momentum in a game and that’s exactly what happened when a 7-0 lead became 14-0 and snowballed into the eventual 45-25 Winnipeg win over the Elks.
Jeffcoat has made plays like that all season long as the veteran is tied for eighth in sacks with eight while also tying for second in forced fumbles with three.
HE’S GONNA GO ALL THE WAY HOME!
If we’re ranking all the big plays in football in terms of excitement factor, there’s an argument to be made that a kickoff return for a touchdown sits at the top.
It’s just mesmerizing to watch a kick returner juke his way through a sea of defenders and navigate well placed blocks to go the entire length of the field. It can often change a game or even a season as well, erasing all offensive and defensive matchups in one single play.
That wasn’t the case when Deontez Alexander took one back to the house for the Elks against the Bombers in Week 20, but boy did it look pretty. You could see his gears going up and never stopping as he seemed to be on a different speed compared to everyone else during that play.
It might be a little too late for Alexander to make his case for a special teams appearance in the CFL All-Star team but nonetheless his return touchdown was the first major Edmonton scored on a return since 2015 and could add even more reasons for the Elks to be optimistic going into 2024.