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I have a confession to make; I didn’t watch the Grey Cup.

Well, technically, I did end up watching it yesterday, but you get the idea.

As a Canadian living and working abroad, one of the best aspects of expat life is the opportunity to travel. Way back in March I got an email about a 24 hour flight sale inside of Brazil. The catch was, all the trips had to be booked for the weekend of Nov. 28th, aka, Grey Cup weekend. The internal conversation in my head went as follows.

Logical me: I can’t travel on Grey Cup weekend, who knowingly misses the big game? Watching it later or checking the highlights just isn’t the same.

Foolish me: On the other hand, these flight sales are ridiculous and really, what are the odds, the Redblacks will be in the game?

Logical me: But it’s only a 9 team league and anything’s possible…

Foolish me: Nah, the Redblacks will be better and even though I think they make the playoffs, there’s no way they’ll go into a place like Hamilton and win an East Final. Book the trip.

So that’s how I wound up in a part of Brazil with no TV and where the internet was so bad that my only option was to try and stream TSN1200’s radio call, but even that still wasn’t great, as it cut out, faded and dropped every so often. To make a long story short, lesson learned. I’ll never book another trip during Grey Cup weekend again, unless it’s to the game itself.

Anyways, now that I’ve had the chance to actually sit down and watch the game, here are some of my thoughts on Ottawa’s loss to the Eskimos.

Things I liked:

– The Redblacks’ offence storming out of the gate; before the Eskimos even took the field, they were trailing by 13 points. On those first two drives, Burris did a fantastic job torching Edmonton for 88 yards and 2 TDs.

– Ottawa’s special teams. Throughout the season I’ve been highly critical of Don Yanowsky’s unit and heading into the playoffs I was sure they would prove to the Redblacks’ undoing. I couldn’t have been more wrong and have to give credit where it’s due. In the Grey Cup, the kick coverage units were fantastic, and the return ones solid and mistake free. Much of the improvement of Ottawa’s special teams can be laid at the feet of WRs Jamill Smith and Jake Harty, both of who had excellent Grey Cup games. Smith cleanly fielded every kick and Harty was a monster in coverage, flying downfield, making numerous tackles and forcing a fumble which led directly to a touchdown.

– Speaking of guys flying around, how solid were the trio of Antoine Pruneau, Abdul Kanneh and David Hinds? Combined, they finished with 17 tackles and whether it was blitzing, in run support or in pass coverage, all three were constantly around the ball, laying thunderous hits and punishing Eskimo players for each yard earned.

– William Powell’s hard nosed running. On a day when the passing attack struggled to get into a rhythm, Powell’s 6.6 yards per carry average was impressive. In fact, considering the burst, agility and strength he showed running through Edmonton’s defence, it begs the question why his number wasn’t called more often.

– The Redblacks’ defensive effort. In general, the Redblacks were strong against the run and consistently collapsed the pocket (never mind that Reilly often escaped using his feet).

Things I disliked:

– The uniform combination that the Redblacks chose to go with. Eschewing their normal clean, all white road look, Ottawa chose to mix and match their black home helmets with their white road jersey and black Signature Look pants that feature a plaid stripe with the word “Ottawa” running down a leg. To me, the Grey Cup is not the venue to try something out for the first time. Plus, it was just too busy.

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– Justin Capicciotti jumping offsides in the 2nd Quarter. The flag wiped out a fumble return for a touchdown and who knows if a 20-10 lead would’ve broken open the game for the Redblacks.

– The Eskimos scoring a touchdown with 12 seconds left in first half. The score gave Edmonton their first lead of the game and breathed life into an offence that had only managed 127 yards before the 88 yard TD drive.

– William Powell finishing the game as the Redblacks’ leading receiver. On a team that boasted four 1000 yard receivers, it’s a pretty clear sign that your offence struggled when your running back finishes with the most catches (7) and yards (57).

– How Jason Maas used Brad Sinopoli. Sinopoli finished the game with a single catch for 8 yards and often stayed in to block when Edmonton brought pressure. On a night when the Eskimos focused on taking away the deep ball to Chris Williams and Greg Ellingson, why was Sinopoli only given one look? Considering he made his money all season long going over the middle, catching short passes and picking up tough YAC (Yards After the Catch), this should’ve been a stage set for him to shine. Instead, he was seemingly an afterthought.

– The 3rd Quarter. The Redblacks only possessed the ball for 4:59 and generated a measly 34 yards of offence. On the flip side, they did score 3 of their 4 second half points, so that’s something.

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– Head Coach Rick Campbell’s decision to punt on 3rd and 1 when at Edmonton’s 53 yard line. With 9 min left in the game, Campbell chose to play conservative and trust his defence. While there’s nothing technically wrong with that, all season long he’s done the opposite, coaching aggressively and letting his offence stay on the field. In turn, they’ve rewarded him by being one of the best teams in the league at converting short yardage situations into 1st downs. In a championship game you need to go with what got you there, it’s not the time or place to re-invent yourself. In the end, Chris Milo’s punt went for a rouge and Edmonton wound up taking over on their 35 yard line, so the change in field position was just 19 yards.

– The DPI call on Brandon Sermons . I’m not here to argue that it wasn’t justified, as by the book it was inference, but what irks me is that it was only called following an Eskimo challenge. As someone who has always been against the rule allowing coaches to challenge for DPI, this call cemented my aversion to it. To a have defensive battle in the biggest game of the year turn on a Command Centre review just doesn’t sit well with me. And yes, I’m aware that I’m being salty.

Final thoughts:

– How can you not respect Eskimo QB Mike Reilly? Whether it was on a scramble to pick up a 1st down or hanging in the pocket to complete a throw, he took a beating, getting hammered numerous times by Redblack defenders, yet he always shook off the hits and bounced right back up.

– This loss will sting for awhile. In a game where many around the country thought they’d be blown out, after 57 minutes the Redblacks looked primed to pull off the upset. It’d never want to get blown out but coming up just short might be an even more painful way to lose. Ottawa was SO close!

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– Despite the loss, this season has been a resounding success for the Redblacks. Not only did the team finish with 10 more wins than 2014, but their 40 year old QB was the CFL’s MOP and they cleaned up at the CFL Player Awards, with Rick Campbell, Brad Sinopoli and SirVincent Rogers all winning awards. Furthermore (and much more importantly), a 32 year playoff drought at Lansdowne ended. 2nd and 25 happened and will live in Ottawa football lore forever.

– The experience gained from playing in a Grey Cup will prove to be invaluable to Ottawa’s young core. Aside from Burris and Jovon Johnson, the Redblacks are by and large a young team. Losing a championship is never ideal but the experience gained from losing will pay dividends down the road when the Redblacks return to the big game.

– What an incredible season. Though it ended in bitter disappointment, it was a throughly enjoyable and exciting ride right to the finish. Every member of R-Nation should hold their heads high when talking about 2015 and be eagerly anticipating 2016.

– Lastly, with 21 potential free agents, including players like Justin Capicciotti, Zack Evans, David Hinds, Jeremiah and Jovon Johnson, Colin Kelly, Patrick Lavoie, Damaso Munoz, Keith Shologan and Chris Williams, GM Marcel Desjardins has a busy couple of weeks ahead of him. But more on that next week.

@RedBlackGade

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Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).