The Calgary Stampeders' 38-27 win over the Montreal Alouettes Saturday provided us with the largest comeback after the first quarter in CFL history, with Calgary recovering from a 24-0 deficit with 35 straight points, but it also may have turned on perhaps the best individual play of the CFL season thus far. The Stampeders' comeback was something to behold, but it wasn't a guaranteed success. In fact, towards the end of the third quarter, it looked like they'd lose their first lead of the game only seconds after gaining it, when Montreal returner Noel Devine caught a kickoff at his own two-yard line, broke through the whole Calgary team and headed for the end zone. That's when Stampeders' defensive back Fred Bennett stepped in to provide one of the greatest highlights so far this season:
Bennett's ability to kick in the afterburners there and chase Devine down proved a huge turning point (and made him one of our Three Stars of the week). After he punched the ball loose, Calgary linebacker Alvin Bowen fell on it in the end zone, giving the Stampeders the ball back on their own 25 without conceding a point. That meant they were still up 28-24 instead of down 31-28, and it paved the way for the lead-extending touchdown they picked up on their next offensive series, providing a lead that was too large for Montreal to overcome. As Stampeders' linebacker Keon Raymond told Vicki Hall of The Calgary Herald, though, Bennett's play was about more than just the points saved: it showed the effort and determination of this team:
"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."...
"Look at the effort Fred put in,” Raymond said. “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.’"
Calgary head coach and general manager John Hufnagel also saw Bennett's play as a turning point:
“Play of the game was Freddie Bennett,” marvelled Stamps head coach/general manager John Hufnagel. “That was a 14-point swing, because it took seven points of their scoreboard. We got the ball on the 25 and marched it down for a touchdown.
“That was kind of indication of our football this game. No matter how bad it looked, we weren’t giving up. And we played until the last whistle.”
In all the praise for Bennett, it shouldn't be lost that this was a remarkable sequence from the Alouettes. Devine's run was impressive, as he niftily dodged a couple of tacklers who came close to grabbing him early on, and the Montreal blocking scheme was incredible, providing a clear lane to the end zone. This wasn't a Chris Williams/Leon Lett situation, either, as Devine didn't seem to let up much. Bennett just had more speed left in the tank.
Still, this was an incredible play from Bennett, both physically and mentally. He obviously showcased his tremendous speed, but his decision to punch the ball out from behind instead of just tackling Devine was a brilliant one. It was risky, as that could have missed, leaving Devine with an easy touchdown, or another Montreal player could conceivably have fallen on the ball for a touchdown.. The rewards were huge, though: Bennett's punch was perfect, sending the ball into the end zone where Bowen could recover it, and that meant that not only did the Stamps get the ball back, they received it with great field position. Bennett persevered, gambled and won big, providing one of the CFL's best highlights this year along the way.