Flyin' Hawaiian sparks Argos with return TD

Argos' Chad Owens breaks a tackle by Eskimos linebacker Damaso Munoz on his way to scoring in...

Argos' Chad Owens breaks a tackle by Eskimos linebacker Damaso Munoz on his way to scoring in Sunday's Eastern semifinal in Toronto. (Reuters)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 PM ET

TORONTO - Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich laughed when asked about Chad Owens’ punt return for a touchdown early in the second quarter on Sunday afternoon.

It was more of a knowing laugh than a knee-slapping guffaw.

“It was big,” said Milanovich. “I told Osh (special teams coach Mike O’Shea) that I’ve been waiting all year to see him do one of those for our team.”

It was definitely worth the wait. Owens’ 59-yard punt return off Edmonton kicker Grant Shaw at 11:56 of the second quarter wasn’t the first touchdown for the Argos — who ended up crushing the Eskimos 42-26 in the CFL Eastern semifinal — but it was definitely a game-changer, as the Boatmen attempted to dig themselves out of a first-quarter rut. On their possession prior to Owens’ TD, the Argos jumped on the board when QB Ricky Ray completed a 12-yard pass to Chad Kackert to tie the game at 7-7. But it was Owens’ electrifying return that cranked up the volume, both on the sidelines and in the crowd.

Edmonton dominated the first quarter and jumped into a 7-0 lead on a Kerry Joseph-to-Cary Koch completion. But as the quarter ended, Toronto defensive end Ronald Flemons recovered a Cory Boyd fumble, setting up the Kackert TD early in the second quarter. And then Owens took over.

“The momentum started (in our favour) with that fumble when we were able to score,” Milanovich said. “But Chad kind of set it over the top, and I think guys really started to feel good about the game.”

Owens’ punt return was not only a game-changer, but also represented the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s first playoff return touchdown of his career and first since Oct. 10, 2011 in Montreal. The Argos’ special teams had struggled at times this season, so he explosive punt return was also a good sign heading into the Eastern Final in Montreal next Sunday.

“The way the game was going, we needed to do something, and that’s the great thing about special teams: We can be the erasure, we can be the clean-up crew,” Owens said. “If the defence is struggling, we can come and make a play that will spark everybody, and that’s what happened tonight. The defence fed off of it, the offence started rolling and that’s when we won the game, in that second quarter.”

The Argos set a CFL record with 31 points in the second quarter.

Owens finished the game with seven punt returns for 96 yards, three kickoff returns for 61 yards and three catches for 14 yards — typical for the Argos’ offensive star who recorded 3,863 combined yards this season to break Michael (Pinball) Clemons’ old CFL mark of 3,840. Owens is up against Calgary’s Jon Cornish for the CFL’s most outstanding player award. The winner will be announced Nov. 22.

“The regular season is done. This is a new season,” said the Honolulu native. “I’m just glad that we’re rolling at the right time. But we have to play better next week against Montreal.”

Owens is hopeful, of course, that his punt magic will return against the Alouettes, his former team.

“I do have that expectation about myself, that I’m going to spring one (all the time),” he said. “All returners have that. You have to.”

A big story leading into Sunday’s Eastern semifinal was Ray facing his former team, the Eskimos. Owens is hoping that next Sunday’s game in La Belle Province will not be about him returning to his former team, where he played all of one game.

“I’m three years removed from that situation,” he said. “Guys come and go in this league, bounce around from team to team every year. So there’s no extra motivation just because we’re going to Montreal and I was there. I still have friends there, I respect those guys. But at the same time I don’t use that I was there as motivation to get me up. What motivates me is that we have an opportunity at East Final to do something special. That’s the focus.”


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