Redblacks Overcome Poor Special Teams and Blown Calls

On a beautiful Saturday night for football in front of an enthusiastic and loud sea of green, the Ottawa Redblacks came through in the clutch to beat a resilient  1-11 Saskatchewan team. Led by a historic performance from QB Henry Burris, the Redblacks put together a late drive to seal the win and improve their record to 7-4 on the year.

Pre-game: 




– Some members of R-Nation (including part of the Bleed Redblacks crew), took advantage of an incredible offer to fly charter with the team, stay in their hotel, dine with them and watch them live in Regina

– After playing a couple of road games in their black home uniforms, Ottawa comes out in their normal road whites

– Redblacks lose the coin loss but the GREENWHITES defer so Ottawa receives to start the game

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1st Quarter:

– Kienan LaFrance (#37) returns the opening kick off 26 yards to the 35 yard line

– Henry Burris (#1) executes a perfect play action fake and hits a Brad “Mr. 2nd Down” Sinopoli (#88) over the middle for a 10 yard gain. Following a deep incompletion intended for Greg “Duke” Ellingson (#82), SirVincent “Senior” Rogers (#55) gets beat by John Chick who sacks Burris and forces a punt. The second best punter in the CFL in 2014, Brett Maher’s (#3) punt is returned 24 yards.

– Former Redblacks QB Kevin “Snake” Glenn leads the GREENWHITES down the length of the field for a 33 yard Paul “Granddaddy” McCallum FG

– Ottawa goes two and out when a 6 yard gain by Ernest Jackson (#9) isn’t enough to overcome an illegal block flag on Sinopoli. On the ensuing punt, Antoine Pruneau (#6) sprints down the field and makes an incredible open field tackle.

– Jerrell Gavins (#24) drops an interception as Saskatchewan goes two and out.

– Burris hits Ellingson, Jeremiah Johnson (#27), Maurice Price (#7) and Ellingson again for gains of 8, 14, 1 and 12 yards. On 3rd down, HC Rick Campbell dials up a fake FG and backup QB Thomas DeMarco rumbles down the left side of the field for an 18 yard pick up. Three plays later, Chris Milo’s (#30) 28 yard FG ties the game 3-3.

– Teddy Roosevelt gets on his high horse and blows by Abdul Kanneh (#14) who gets beat deep for a 71 yard TD pass.

– LaFrance returns the kick off 24 yards to the 34 yard line.

– On the final play of the first quarter, Burris finds a streaking Patrick “Laval” Lavoie (#81) for a 26 yard gain.

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2nd Quarter:

– Building off the momentum of the deep completion to Lavoie, Burris proceeds to lead the offence on a 6 play 81 yard touchdown drive, hitting Johnson, Price and Ellingson for gains of 6, 21 and 17 yards. Following the convert, we’re tied at 10-10.

– Ottawa’s porous special teams coverage rears its ugly head as the Redblacks allow the ensuing kick off to be returned 42 yards to their 54 yard line.

– Jacques Washington (#28) goes from hero to zero as on first down he nearly picks off Glenn but on second down blows the coverage and gets beat for 20 yard TD pass.

– The Redblacks respond (sorta) when Burris hits Jackson for a gain of 11 yards and Lavoie for 9.9 yards which eventually leads to a 58 yard Maher rouge. Ottawa trails 17-11.

– Apparently nobody told #DBlock that almost only counts in horseshoes because the Redblacks nearly get their 3rd pick of the game when Brandyn Thompson (#25) lets an interception slide through his hands. Justin Capicciotti’s (#93) 7th sack of the season forces a GREENWHITES punt.

– The Redblacks go two and out and on the ensuing punt Kalonji Kahama’s (#97) hustle and great special teams tackle is wasted when James Green (#38) is flagged for unnecessary roughness.

– Saskatchewan extends their lead with a 39 yard McCallum FG

– Johnson catches a short swing pass and rumbles 13 yards before Burris hits Jackson for a gain of 17. Burris gets sacked but on 2nd and long hits Price for 13 yards to set up a 46 yard Milo FG.

– After 30 minutes, the Rough Riders trail the Roughriders 20-14.

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Half-time:

– The TSN Panel agrees that Ottawa can win the game if they have more points then Saskatchewan after 60 minutes of play.

3rd Quarter:

– The Redblacks kick off to Saskatchewan and following a 26 yard completion, the defence tightens up and forces a punt.

– Johnson rushes for gains of 3 and 9 yards and Sinopoli, Jackson and Williams make catches good for 16, 1 and 38 yards. On 1st and 10 at the GREENWHITES 25 yard line, Williams catches a short screen and shows off his speed as he races untouched into the end zone. Following the convert, Ottawa leads 21-20 and members of R-Nation in attendance celebrate

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– The defence forces a two and out but the drive is kept alive when Shawn Lemon (#52) and Malik Jackson (#10) are both flagged for 15 yard penalties, Lemon for a horse collar tackle on Glenn and Jackson for unnecessary roughness for apparently tackling too hard. The 30 yards gifted to Saskatchewan leads to a 49 yard McCallum FG that clears the bar by a single grey hair, giving the GREENWHITES a 23-21 lead.

– On 2nd and 5, Sinopoli makes a 7 yard catch that the refs somehow rule incomplete. HC Rick Campbell decides to challenge as everyone with two working eyes can clearly see a catch, except for those people with two (or four) eyes in the CFL’s Command Centre who inexplicably uphold a blatantly incorrect call in the face of direct video evidence.

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– The defence flexes their muscles as the GREENWHITES go two and out

– Catches from Johnson, William and Price and runs by Johnson and Burris set up a 37 yard FG attempt. Unfortunately, Milo pushes the kick left and Ottawa fails to get the rouge when Nic Demski takes the ball out to the 1 yard line.

4th Quarter:

– Saskatchewan moves the sticks a few times to get out from under the shadow of their goalposts but ultimately is forced to punt.

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– Burris hits Williams for a gain of 26 yards but on the next play gets sacked and fumbles. The ball is recovered by Saskatchewan who jump on it like Rider Nation on Pilsner sales

– The GREENWHITES move the chains once before going two and out. Saskatchewan’s punt pins Ottawa at their 10 yard line.

P- rice picks up 9.9 and Burris sneaks for 1 yard to give the Redblacks a fresh set of downs. Following Jackson’s 13 yard catch, Price picks up 9.5 and Burris sneaks for 1 to give the Redblacks a fresh set of downs. Following Williams’ 8 yard catch, Johnson picks up 1 on 2nd and 2. On 3rd and 1 Burris fumbles as he extends the ball on a sneak. Once again, Saskatchewan recovers.

– The GREENWHITES feed RB Jerome Messam the rock who picks up a couple of first downs. On 2nd and long, Lemon gets his first Lemon Drop in red and black to force a 48 yard FG attempt. Like bingo at the retirement home, McCallum’s kick is just off but Saskatchewan picks up a rouge to extend the lead to 24-21.

– Burris shows off his arm strength by throwing a 25 yard dart to Price and a 15 yard strike to Williams. The Redblacks pick up an extra 15 after Williams is hit way out of bounds. Following an 8 yard Ellingson catch and a 5 yard run by Johnson, Burris caps off the drive in style with a 1 yard TD plunge. Following the convert the Redblacks lead 27-24.

– Ottawa’s special teams continue to be ‘specially bad as the ensuing kick off is returned 69 yards to Ottawa’s 28 yard line, immediately putting Saskatchewan in tying FG range.

– The GRENWHITES do indeed go two and out and McCallum proves you can’t trick an old dog twice by nailing a 37 yard FG to even things up at 27-27.

– With less than 1:20 remaining in the game and facing 2nd and 10, Burris unleashes a deep bomb to Jackson who hauls in the 53 yard pass. Three plays later, Milo’s 14 yard FG splits the uprights to give Ottawa a 30-27 lead with 6 seconds left.

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– Kanneh seals the win by picking off Glenn’s Hail Mary.

– Final score: 30-27 for the good guysfinal

Key Stats:

Burris completed 35 of 45 passes for 477 yards and 2 TDS

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Johnson had 10 carries for 29 yards

Williams hauled in 8 passes for 137 yards and 1 TD

Pruneau made 7 tackles 

Maher punted 5 times for 241 yards, averaging 48.2 yards per kick

Closing Thoughts:

In a highly entertaining back and forth game, it was great to see the Redblacks dig deep and make clutch plays with the game on the line. Offensively, Burris was fantastic, completing 77% of his passes to 7 different receivers as he broke Chris Isacc’s 33 year record for most yards passed by an Ottawa QB in a single game. As well as he played, it’s worth noting that Burris left some throws out on the field, overthrowing a couple of open targets early in game. And though he avoided throwing an interception, Burris’ second fumble was a rookie mistake that the grizzled vet shouldn’t have made. That said, every game has ups and downs and overall Burris was efficient and effective. The offensive line gave up 4 sacks but Burris did a good job using his feet to move chains, scrambling 7 times for 16 yards and 1 TD.

OC Jason Maas only handed the ball off to Johnson 10 times during the game, making it hard for the offensive line to establish the run. Johnson was much more of a factor catching passes out of the backfield, making 6 catches for 40 yards, than he was running the ball. Ottawa plays better when Johnson gets into a groove on the ground, allowing the offensive line to tee off on the defence and wear down their opponents, so going forward he needs more than 10 carries per game.

Though some will disagree, the Redblacks wide receiving corps is one of the most entertaining and productive groups in the league. Maurice Price, Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson all had over 90 yards, and latter two had over 100. It was highly encouraging to see Price start to assert himself and Williams use his speed to rack up YAC (yards after the catch). Jackson’s 53 yard catch with just over a minute left in the game was the kind of clutch catch that brings an entire fan base to their feet.

Defensively though at times it bent, Mark Nelson’s unit made the plays it had to get the win.   Ottawa held Saskatchewan to just 57 yards on the ground and 227 yards in the air (keep in mind 71 of those yards came on a single broken play). The league’s leading sack attack brought Glenn down twice and heavy pressure caused numerous incompletions. Second year LB Antoine Pruneau led the defence with 7 tackles and showed great speed chasing plays down from the backside. Abdul Kanneh’s Hail Mary interception on the final play the game was the only turnover generated by the unit though several potential interceptions were dropped.

The Redblacks special teams were yet again, far from special and nearly wound up costing the team the win. Don Yanowsky’s unit simply cannot cover a kick. The players change but the results stay the same; Saskatchewan averaged 10 yards per punt return and 33.4 yards per kick off return, including a 69 yard return right at the end of the game that moved the GREENWHITES immediately into FG range. Milo struggled with his accuracy, missing a FG and a convert, but came through in the clutch to nail the game winner. Perhaps the lone bright spot on special teams was the return of Brett Maher, who averaged 48.2 yards per punt and had great hang time on his kicks. Though the team managed to win yet again in spite of their special teams, unless a change is made, sooner or later the Redblacks’ inability to cover a kick or generate any kind of significant return of their own will cost them down the stretch.

The last time an Ottawa CFL team sat at 7-4 after 11 games was in 1976 and this is the first time since 1979 that they’ve been 3 games above .500 at the half way mark of the season. By winning their third game in a row, Ottawa snaps their season long trend of win two, lose two and sit alone in 2nd in the East, one game back of Hamilton. With the Ticats losing starting QB Zack Collaros to what looks like a serious knee injury and with their next four games at home, in front of what will surely be sold out crowds, the Redblacks have a serious chance to push for 1st in a suddenly wide open East Division.

@RedBlackGade

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