Redblacks survive late scare to down Lions

The Ottawa Redblacks were starting to resemble the team that won the Grey Cup last November on Saturday.

Then they almost let the game get away.

The Redblacks led the B.C. Lions 31-3 at the start of the fourth quarter but needed to hang on for a 31-24 win. Ottawa has held a lead in the fourth quarter and lost three times this season.

“They’re a good football team and to get ahead of them that far is not an easy task, so I’m happy for our guys and happy for the win,” Redblacks coach Rick Campbell said, trying to stay away from a conversation about the near collapse.

“Hopefully that’s another psychological hurdle we’ve gotten over.”

Trevor Harris became the first quarterback to surpass 3,000 passing yards this season and Brett Maher kicked four field goals in the win.

Harris finished the day with 326 yards for 3,188 on the season. But his only touchdown pass came with four seconds to play in the third quarter when he connected with Mossis Madu on a four-yard strike. The extra point by Maher was blocked but it still gave the Redblacks a 31-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Madu also had an eight-yard touchdown run four minutes into the third quarter, putting the Redblacks up 25-0 before Ty Long kicked a 10-yard field goal to give the Lions their first points of the game.

Former Redblack Jeremiah Johnson scored in his first game against his old team when he scampered in from four yards out three minutes into the fourth quarter. The ensuing convert made the score 31-10.

Johnson added a three-yard touchdown catch with five minutes to play. The toss was from Travis Lulay, as was a four-yard TD pass to Brian Burnham that cut the lead to 31-24 at 12:49. The play came after Harris threw an interception to Ronnie Yell that was returned to the Ottawa four-yard line.

“We kind of just let it go and they ended up making some plays to make it close,” Harris said.

“We’ve got to be able as an offence to put it away. It’s a lesson learned in a win. It’s critical that we learn from it. I’ve always said this is a championship calibre team and we just have to continue to get better.”

The win allowed the Redblacks (3-6-1) to leapfrog the Montreal Alouettes into second place in the East Division, one point behind the Toronto Argonauts, who played in Calgary later Saturday.

The Redblacks and Alouettes will play twice in the next three weeks including Thursday night in Montreal.

“This game against Montreal just got bigger and is a critical Eastern matchup so we have to make sure that we lick our wounds real quick and get up and get ready to go,” Harris said.

The Lions (5-5) missed an opportunity to inch closer to the top three in the West Division. They remain four points behind Winnipeg and Edmonton and three back of Calgary.

“We can’t afford any more mulligans. We have eight games left. The West is all discombobulated and we put ourselves in a tough position and we need to regroup, we need to play a lot better football and we need to make sure we win some games,” Lions coach Wally Buono said.

The Redblacks took an 18-0 lead into the half, but while a touchdown and four field goals gave them the points, three defensive plays in particular helped keep the Lions off the scoreboard.

After Maher kicked first-quarter field goals of 41 and 48 yards at 7:26 and 11:10 respectively to give the Redblacks a 6-0 lead, Corey Tindal picked off Jonathon Jennings in the Ottawa end zone with the Lions in field-goal range.

Early in the second quarter the Lions were first and 10 on the Ottawa 39, but B.C. was forced to punt on third and 21 two plays later, including a loss of yards and then a sack of Jennings.

Ryan Lindley completed a long drive with a one-yard touchdown run that went unconverted but gave the Redblacks a 12-0 advantage at 11:07.

Maher kicked his third field goal of the game, this one from 17-yards out, and closed the first-half scoring on the final play with a 40-yard field goal. It came two plays after Long missed a 34-yard field goal attempt that was returned 90 yards to the B.C. 38 by Diontae Spencer.