It was a game almost worth waiting 32 years for. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, in front of the largest crowd in their short history, the Ottawa Redblacks pulled out a win in dramatic fashion and earned a Grey Cup ticket in the process. As I was actually at the game and not watching from afar, instead of a recap, this post will feature my thoughts on an unforgettable day in Ottawa.

Things I liked:

– The vibe around the city was fantastic. Whether it was the buzz about the team on radio and local news channels, or the fact that every second person I saw walking around the city all weekend was decked out in red and black, it was incredible to see the city come together and throw their energy and support behind the team.

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– Tailgating at Brewer Park. A large crew gathers there before every home game and if you haven’t swung by to experience it yet, you owe it to yourself. Fantastic people, delicious food and great football talk, what’s not to like?

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– The combination of Ottawa’s normal black home jerseys with their Signature Look pants. Instead of being all black, they feature the word “Ottawa” running down the leg on a plaid stripe and if the uniforms don’t change too much next season I wouldn’t mind if the team made it their regular home look.

– A completely packed and thundering TD Place. In addition to filling the regular 24,000 seats, OSEG wound up selling an extra 1000+ standing room tickets. The 25,093 members of R-Nation on hand did not disappoint, roaring all game long and forcing Hamilton’s offence to take their timeouts early and get flagged twice for procedure. Ensuring that each fan had a black rally towel was a nice touch too, though I would’ve liked to see one side (ex: the North) given red ones and the other (the South) black.

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– Ottawa’s special teams. After the season Don Yanowsky’s unit has had, many (myself included), thought the Redblacks’ special teams could be their downfall against a dangerous Hamilton unit. Instead, Chris “Money” Milo was perfect, nailing 4 FGs into gusty winds and converting all three converts. While neither Chris Williams nor Jamill Smith were spectacular in the return game, they both consistently (and cleanly) fielded kicks and picked up positive yardage. More importantly, the Redblacks’ coverage units limited Brandon Banks, the CFL’s most dangerous return man, to just 6.5 yards per punt return and 17 yards per kick off return.

– A couple of catches by Scott Macdonell. After a fairly quiet season dominated by Ottawa’s four 1000 yard receivers, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to see the Macdonell on the field and making the most of limited reps.

– Antoine Pruneau and Damaso Munoz’s performances. Munoz and Pruneau finished the game with 11 and 8 tackles respectively and always seemed to be around whatever Ticat had the ball.

– Henry Burris showing why he is undoubtedly the CFL’s MOP. On a day when his completion percentage was down from it’s typical 70%, Burris still averaged 10.2 yards pass, avoided turning the ball over and showed a willingness to run when his receivers were covered, rushing 6 times for 29 yards and a TD.

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Greg Ellingson sticking it to the team that let him walk in free agency. Ellingson was already Ottawa’s most productive receiver in the game before he hauled in Burris’ pass on 2nd and 25. By making that catch, dodging two defenders and scampering 93 yards for the game winning touchdown, Ellingson propelled his name into the rich history of Ottawa CFL lore.

– Also, AJ Jakubec’s radio call of the play. Chill inducing stuff.

– Seeing Russ Jackson on the field and congratulating Burris on the win. The fact that TD Place lets R-Nation onto the field to celebrate with players is great. Having former Ottawa legends like Jackson there too is just plain awesome.

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Things I disliked:

– The drops by Chris Williams and Maurice Price. Though he finished the game with 3 catches for 46 yards, Williams could’ve gone off for much more if he hadn’t dropped a number of easy passes. As for Price, he finished the game with 0 receptions on 3 targets.

– A couple of horrid decisions by the on-field officials in the 4th quarter. The most glaring error was Greg Ellinson’s catch being ruled incompletion, despite clear replays showing him with his hands between the ball and the turf. Even more frustrating is that the CFL Command Centre continued its season long tradition of blown calls and upheld the refs incorrect initial ruling.

– The Redblacks defence only notching a single sack and making Jeremiah Masoli look like Zack Collaros. All game long it seemed like the Redblacks were much more concerned with containing Masoli than they were with bringing him down. Numerous times defensive lineman or linebackers had him dead to rights in the backfield, but instead of playing aggressive they were passive, and those extra seconds allowed him to dump off passes for completions and first downs.

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– The fact that Burris to Ellingson on 2nd and 25 should never have happened because Ticats’ DE Arnaud Gascon-Nadon should’ve picked off an extremely ill-advised pass on 1st down. I can safely speak for all of R-Nation when I say that my heart skipped a beat while Gascon-Nadon juggled and ultimately dropped a pass that hit him right in the hands. If he makes that catch, the odds are quite high the Ticats run out the clock and kick a game winning field goal as time expires.

– J’Michael Deane’s illegal chop block that put the Redblacks in 2nd and 25. It was a low, unnecessary and dangerous hit. Deane’s block was just as bad as Simoni Lawrence’s hit on Burris a few weeks back.

Final thoughts:

– Though it’ll be a hell of a challenge, I’m glad that the Redblacks will face the Eskimos in the Grey Cup. First off, Edmonton is the only CFL team the Redblacks have yet to beat. Secondly, revenge is long overdue for the 1981 Grey Cup loss that turned on a double pass interference call on Tony Gabriel. That was literally the only time in the history of football in both Canada and the USA that that call has been made.

– Despite the early season beat-downs, I like the Redblacks’ chances versus the Eskimos. Both teams match up fairly evenly and I think what ultimately decides the game is Ottawa’s ability to protect Burris from Edmonton’s ferocious front seven. If the receiving corps has time to run their routes and Burris can step into his throws, it might be a very long day for Edmonton’s secondary.

– No matter what happens on Sunday, R-Nation can take solace in the fact that any way you slice it, the 2015 season has been a resounding success. On the field, the team was highly entertaining and surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. Off it, R-Nation continued to sell out TD Place and foster the rowdy atmosphere that is quickly becoming respected by other fan bases around the league and feared by opposing teams.

@RedBlackGade

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Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)