The 2019 CFL campaign fast becoming the year of the kick returner

This is fast becoming the year of the kick returner in the CFL.

Through eight weeks, 14 kicks have been returned for touchdowns, including a record eight kickoffs. Last year, there were 15 return TDs.

According to CFL stats guru Steve Daniel, the record for an 81-game season is 22, recorded in 2004.

On Friday night, Ottawa rookie DeVonte Dedmon recorded two special-teams touchdowns. He returned a kickoff 111 yards for a score and had a 95-yard punt return TD as the Redblacks earned a 30-27 overtime win over Montreal to not only snap a four-game winless streak but also hand the Alouettes their first loss in four contests.

Dedmon had a club-record 382 combined return yards. That’s the second-most in CFL history behind Calgary’s Larry Taylor, who had 428 return yards versus Toronto on July 7, 2012.

Then on Saturday night, Calgary’s Terry Williams scored the CFL-record eighth kickoff return TD with a 103-yard effort in the Stampeders’ 24-18 home win over the Edmonton Eskimos.

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FIRST-PLACE BATTLE: After reeling off five straight wins to open the season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have endured consecutive losses to Hamilton and Toronto.

However, the Bombers can regain sole possession of top spot in the West Division on Thursday night.

Winnipeg (5-2) hosts the Calgary Stampeders (5-2) with both teams unbeaten within their conference. The Stamps are 3-0 versus division rivals while Winnipeg is 2-0.

Calgary comes in riding a three-game win streak with backup Nick Arbuckle. But veteran Bo Levi Mitchell is scheduled to practise Tuesday and could be available versus Winnipeg.

Mitchell, the CFL and Grey Cup MVP last year, has been on the six-game injured list with a slightly torn pectoral muscle.

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ADAMS JR. OUT: Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. will miss the Alouettes’ home game Friday night versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Adams Jr. suffered a mild concussion in Montreal’s overtime loss to Ottawa last week. Antonio Pipkin is expected to start against Saskatchewan.

Montreal running back William Stanback, currently second overall in CFL rushing (592 yards), suffered a lower-body injury against Ottawa and is listed as day-to-day.

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WARD REMAINS PERFECT: The beat goes on for Ottawa Redblacks kicker Lewis Ward.

Ward made all three field goals he attempted Friday night, including a 14-yard effort in overtime, in Ottawa’s win over the Alouettes. The 26-year-old CFL sophomore, who is a perfect 19-of-19 this season, extended his pro football record to 67 straight field goals made.

Ward’s only miss came in his first-ever CFL game in 2018 against Saskatchewan when he made three-of-four attempts. And all of his boots haven’t been chip shots as he connected from 52 yards out last year and twice has made field goals from 53 yards this season.

The five-foot-seven, 175-pound Ward, who played collegiately at Ottawa, was the CFL’s outstanding rookie and special-teams player last season. He was also a league all-star.

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PHILOSOPHICAL TAKE: McLeod Bethel-Thompson guided Toronto to a stunning 28-27 home win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night, the Argonauts’ first victory of the season.

Bethel-Thompson was 37-of-49 passing for 343 yards and three TDs as Toronto (1-6) erased a 20-0 deficit against Winnipeg. Bethel-Thompson’s 11-yard scoring strike to S.J. Green with 13 seconds remaining tied the score at 27-27 before Tyler Crapigna hit the game-winning convert.

Impressive, considering prior to the game Argos head coach Corey Chamblin said while Bethel-Thompson would start, he wasn’t guaranteed to finish. On Wednesday, Toronto acquired veteran quarterback Zach Collaros from Saskatchewan.

Maybe that’s why as the 31-year-old Bethel-Thompson walked off BMO Field, he stopped at the goal-line, went to his knees and dropped his face to the turf.

“Thank you to my family, thank you, mom and dad,” Bethel-Thompson said afterwards. “I just think of all of the people that believed in me and sent me good energy.

“Thank you to my ancestors … my grandpa Pete that passed away My ancestors were there tonight, I could feel them floating with me and I just let go. When you believe in karmic energy and space and time, everything happens at the same time. (My ancestors) were with me. I just thank them and thank them for having my back and thank them for the moment.”

Bethel-Thompson will have time to relish the win as Toronto is on a bye week. The Argos return to action against Edmonton on Aug. 16.

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RIGHT DECISION: Cody Fajardo further justified the Roughriders’ faith in him Thursday night.

On Wednesday, the Riders dealt Collaros to the Argonauts. Collaros began the season as Saskatchewan’s starter but was knocked out of the club’s season-opening loss in Hamilton due to a concussion.

Fajardo has stepped in and led the Riders to a 4-3 record. On Thursday, he completed 25-of-31 passes for 313 yards and ran for a team-high 56 yards and TD in Saskatchewan’s 24-19 home win over Hamilton.

Fajardo’s five-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds remaining erased a 19-16 Hamilton lead.

The six-foot-two, 215-pound Fajardo — a backup in his three previous CFL campaigns — has completed 132-of-177 passes (74.6 per cent) for 1,705 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also rushed for 227 yards and six TDs on 46 carries (4.9-yard average).

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