October 22nd, 2021

Inside the CFL: Winnipeg needs solution to kicking problem

By Medicine Hat News on October 14, 2021.

henever I asked a gentleman I once knew how he was doing, he inevitably replied, “I can’t kick”. Must be from Winnipeg.

While pundits ponder if this season’s Blue Bomber team is the best ever, pointing to their outstanding offence and defence, there is one obvious, glaring weakness. Their field goal kicker Ali Mourtada has made only four in ten attempts. In Winnipeg’s 30-3 win over Edmonton last week he missed three FGs and a convert, not that the Elks are complaining. Before that Tyler Crapigna made 60% of his tries, followed by punter Marc Liegghio who was about the same. Kicking is certainly the Bombers’ Achilles’ Heel and could prove fatal down the stretch.

General Manager Kyle Walters has been trying to lure his former kicker Justin Medlock out of retirement. His career success percentage is 86.5. Former CFL kicker Lirim Hajrullahu was released by the Dallas Cowboys August 24 but is hoping to land a job with another NFL team. His percentage success rate is 82.8. Continually employed place kickers are usually good on over 80% of their attempts.

I get the impression that 2021 is the Year of the Miss on both sides of the border. In the Cincinnati-Green Bay contest Sunday

the teams missed five goals between 14 seconds before the two-minute warning and into overtime. Argo Boris Bede missed a crucial one against Hamilton Thanksgiving. But it’s really an optical illusion. Projected percentage success through this 14 game campaign is 88.1. It was 86.9% for 2017. Twenty years ago the mark was 62.5%.

Nobody’s perfect. While Bede missed an earlier attempt, he kicked the winner on the last play of the game to lift the Argos to a 23-22 victory. Calgary’s Rene Parades missed a game winning field-goal against trhe Bombers in August. Last Saturday he kicked the game winner(twice) in Regina. Paredes leads the league with a percentage of 91.3.

His long snapper, former Crescent Heights High School Viking Aaron Crawford performed the same duties in Hamilton with both Medlock and Hajrullahu, Sergio Castillo and Brett Maher,

What is Rene like to work with? “Really good, actually. He’s a solid vet, he’s been around. He’s got a good grasp of what he wants, he makes what he expects pretty clear. He communicates well on what works for him. It’s not different from what I’ve been doing. With Rene it has been a pretty smooth operation.”

With the game on the line, Paredes and Crawford and their holder must be perfect. Nothing less will do. Few positions in sports are as pressure-packed as field-goal kicker. Over the years there have been many occasions when everything came down to a last play kick.

Grey Cups were won. Edmonton’s Dave Cutler did it against Ottawa in 1981. Another Dave, Ridgway downed the Ti-Cats in the final minute of the 1989 championship. The CFL’s all-time leading scorer Lion Lui Passaglia turned back the Baltimore invasion in 1994. With just over a minute left, he missed his first try but redeemed himself at game’s end with the winner. The same happened in 2009 when Montreal’s Damon Duval missed his game ending winning kick only to get another chance when Saskatchewan was penalized for too many men on the field. The Alouette made good from 33yards out. With the spirit of his departed father on his shoulder Stampeder Mark McLaughlin won for Calgary over Hamilton in 1998.

In playoff action, who can forget Calgary’s Larry Robinson ending Saskatchewan’s 14-2 season with that 32 yard kick into a blizzard with three seconds left. He admitted afterwards he closed his eyes in the process. That same “Robo Kicker” Ridgway slipped and fell at Commonwealth Stadium trying to boot the Green and White into the 1992 Western Final. Most who have played the position sympathized when he said two years later. “I’ve attempted over 700 field goals in my career. The one in the Western Final was tough to handle. It was just one of those things. It will be disappointing if I’m remembered for that kick. The next year I came back and made 90% of my field goals which is something I had to do.” When Saskatchewan fans think about Robokicker , all they remember is how he won the greatest Grey Cup ever played.

Better get a kicker, Winnipeg.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 49 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com

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