Redblacks come up short against BC

On a beautiful Thursday evening, with another loud, sold out crowd on hand (24,677), R-Nation was treated to an exciting back and forth contest between two teams coming off blowout losses. While the Redblacks’ energy level was much more inspired than the previous week’s effort against Montreal, ultimately BC pulled ahead late and hung on for the win, making Wally Buono the only coach to beat all three of Ottawa’s CFL franchises (Rough Riders, Renegades and Redblacks). Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the game:

1) It was Military Appreciation Night in the nation’s capital and thus fans were treated to a pair flybys by two CF-18 Hornets. The scream of the engines as the jets roared by was defeating, especially on the last run, in which the Hornets barely seemed to clear the condo on the west side of the stadium.

2) In his first game back since what looked to be a season ending knee injury, Trevor Harris was sharp, completing 76.7% passes (23/30) for 352 yards and a touchdown. First the positives: Harris’ mobility didn’t seem limited whatsoever, and he moved around the pocket with ease when it collapsed. He also displayed the same zip and accuracy on deep passes that R-Nation has come to expect from him. On the other hand, Harris bobbled and mis-handled two perfect shotguns snaps from centre Jon Gott, with one leading to a safety late in the 4th quarter. Additionally, with the game on the line (and after marching Ottawa down to BC’s 38), Harris’ pass fell to the turf near absolutely no-one, despite there being two open receivers near the goal line (Ernest Jackson and Brad Sinopoli). He was then sacked on 2nd down, setting up a tough 3rd and 17. Overall though, considering it was his first action in over a month, Harris looked like his usual self and will only get better as he continues to shake the rust off. Lastly, for those looking for a QB controversy, Henry Burris was the first one to greet Harris as he came to the sidelines after every series and was ready with his signature grin and a high five after each scoring drive. But don’t let reality get in the way of a good narrative I guess.

Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris (7) throws the ball past the hands of B.C. Lions' Alex Bazzie (53) during first half CFL action on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris (7) throws the ball past the hands of B.C. Lions’ Alex Bazzie (53) during first half CFL action on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

3) While Harris’ numbers look good, the truth of the matter is that Ottawa’s offence as a whole wasn’t fantastic, netting only 16 first downs and 375 total yards. For much of the night, the offence struggled to sustain drives and move the chains. OC Jamie Elizondo’s fondness for calling screens and hitch passes often resulted in negative plays or short gains. Continuing a season long trend, Elizondo’s unit failed to stretch the field for long portions of the night, despite the fact that every time they took a shot downfield, Harris found success. Too often drives consisted of a screen on first down and an out on second down. As I have mentioned numerous times before, I simply don’t understand why guys like Chris Williams, Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson and Brad Sinopoli are running routes to the sidelines instead of down the field. Screens and hitch passes should be used as a change up, not a constant go to play. Look no further than the only screen BC ran all night. Facing 2nd and 13 on Ottawa’s 38 yard line with 1:45 left, BC dialled up a screen that caught Ottawa’s defence completely by surprise, moving the ball all the way down to the Redblacks’ one yard line. I hate beating a dead horse but until Elizondo starts calling more plays that feature routes over the middle and/or down the sidelines, Ottawa will continue to be predictable and their own worst enemy.

4) RB Travon Van provided a spark in his first game back from injury. His shiftiness and speed was on full display as he beat Lion defenders both on the ground and in the air, rushing for 52 yards and a touchdown (on 12 carries) and snagging a team high 6 passes for 28 yards.

5) Chris Wiliams and Greg Ellingson combined for 10 catches, 258 yards and perhaps most importantly, a recovered fumble. On Ottawa’s final drive, Ellingson made a 24 yard catch before being tackled and fumbling the ball. Luckily for him, Williams was Johnny on the Spot and quickly pounced on the loose ball. Ultimately it wouldn’t matter because a few plays later, on 3rd and 17, Williams dropped a pass that hit him in the hands and would’ve moved the yardsticks.

6) As for the other half of Ottawa’s “Fab Four”, after hauling in 3 passes for 41 yards and a TD in the first half, Ernest Jackson was invisible over the last half an hour. Same goes for Brad Sinopoli who finished with just 2 catches for 20 yards. Much of their reduced production can be blamed on the fact that they are slot receivers who go across the middle and Ottawa simply doesn’t throw the ball that way very often.

7) After getting their asses kicked by Montreal, Ottawa’s offensive line was a bit stouter but still conceded 4 sacks. Rookie Jason Lauzon-Séguin looked much more comfortable at RT than he did at LG last week and Matt Albright, who made his first start of the season, didn’t look out of place at RG.

8) Good thing you don’t need an intact ACL to be a GM, otherwise Marcel Desjardins might be looking for work. Watching him get clipped and go down awkwardly was bad enough, but seeing him collapse from shock a minute later was even scarier. Thankfully, the punting net slowed his fall and probably prevented him from hitting his head. Shoutout to the classless Shawn Lemon who immediately tweeted out his thoughts on the collision. Lemon, apparently still bitter about being called out for faking tweets about his release from Ottawa, later pretended that he wasn’t watching the game.

9) Heading into the game, Ottawa’s defence was conceding a league low 52 yards per game on the ground. That average will go way up as BC’s massive offensive line manhandled the Redblacks’ defensive line and linebackers, opening lanes for the Lion’s backs to rack up 128 yards on the ground. Some of those yards can be attributed to fatigue, as BC dominated time of possession, with 36:31 to Ottawa’s 23:29. The Redblacks’ defence simply couldn’t keep up with the 66 offensive plays BC ran.

10) Speaking of the defensive line, the Canadians on it continued their strong seasons. Connor Williams and Zach Evans had a sack apiece and local product and former Ottawa Gee-Gee Ettore Lattanzio notched a pair, narrowly missing out on a trio (but more on that in a minute). Though the Redblacks’ brought Jennings down 6 times, it seemed like every time it mattered most, his offensive line either held the pocket together or he just managed to buy enough time with his feet to complete a pass.

B.C. Lions' Jonathon Jennings (10) runs the ball against the Ottawa Redblacks during second half CFL action on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. Lions’ Jonathon Jennings (10) runs the ball against the Ottawa Redblacks during second half CFL action on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

11) Much was made of the decision to not start Canadian LB Antoine Pruneau in favour of American Nick Taylor. Pruneau had an extremely rough game against Montreal, missing a number of tackles. Unfortunately for the coaching staff, the decision to start Taylor didn’t exactly pan out as expected, as Taylor missed a few tackles of his own. But it’s not like Taylor was alone in his struggles. As a whole, Ottawa’s secondary and linebacking corps had another weak tackling game. BC’s receivers picked up YAC (yards after catch) with ease, as evidenced by Chris Rainey’s 3rd quarter touchdown and Manny Arceneaux’s catch in the 4th quarter. On 2nd and 5 with just over two minutes left, Arcenaux caught a short pass at mid-field and broke four tackles before being pushed out of bounds at Ottawa’s 34 yard line. Ottawa’s failure to wrap up the ball carrier in recent weeks has been infuriating.

12) One guy who hasn’t been missing tackles is John Boyett. Despite still not starting, Boyett had another huge game, making 5 punishing tackles and sacking Jennings twice. If Pruneau isn’t to start and has to be replaced by an American, Boyett should be that guy because not having him on the field for every down simply doesn’t make sense.

13) Overall it was a quiet night for the officials, with just 10 total flags being thrown (7 on Ottawa and  3 on BC). That being said, the home crowd was not happy with the men in stripes (to put it lightly). Things started off on a bad note when Nick Taylor tackled a scrambling Jennings and was then flagged for taunting. The phantom call kept BC’s drive alive and led to a FG. While that call was blown, the rest of the flags on Ottawa were all deserving. I know it’s not a popular opinion among R-Nation but the roughing the passer call on Connor Williams in the 4th was indeed an infraction. You can argue that it’s a stupid rule because Williams didn’t hit Jennings with his helmet and didn’t look like he meant to slap his head at all and that the contact only happened because Jennings began to crouch, but what you can’t argue is that in the rulebook, any contact with a QB’s head is an instant roughing the passer penalty. So by the book, Ottawa was in the wrong and you can’t blame the Command Centre for overturning the call that every on field official missed. Something else the referees missed were a couple of BC receivers being way offsides and a few blatant holds, but at this point I’m happy when the missed calls add up to less than five per game. Overall, 3 of Ottawa’s 7 penalties kept BC drives alive, continuing their season long trend of undisciplined play. Head Coach Rick Campbell keeps talking tough about how he’ll fix his team’s flags, but I wonder if it’s going to take another player getting cut, a la Brandon McDonald last season, for the message to really sink in.

14) In terms of special teams, it was good to finally see Chris Milo have a perfect game. Not only did he make every field goal attempt, but he also nailed both converts. After weeks of inconsistent play, hopefully Milo has turned the corner. As for the punting, Zach Medeiros averaged only 38 yards per punt and failed to get any good hang time on his kicks. That in turn put the cover teams in a tough spot, which of course, BC returner Chris Rainey took full advantage of, to the tune of 6 returns for 151 yards.

15) Despite the loss, Ottawa still clings to 1st in the East by a single point, thanks to their tie with Calgary. They can drop no further than 2nd this week and that is conditional on a Hamilton win in Calgary, which is no sure thing. If Ottawa goes on to miss out on a home playoff game, they’ll look back at this four game homestand and rue the missed opportunity. Instead of making the most of playing in front of a rambunctious home crowd, the Redblacks instead went 1-3 and watched their stranglehold on the East disappear. Though R-Nation shouldn’t be too down about the loss to BC (as it was a much stronger effort than vs Montreal), in the end moral victories don’t count in the standings. With a tough road game in Montreal looming, Ottawa needs to quickly right the ship if they want to remain atop the East.

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).