Redblacks avoid epic collapse (and 13 other thoughts)

That breeze you feel is the collective sigh of relief from R-Nation that the Ottawa Redblacks held on to beat the B.C. Lions 31-24. After utterly dominating for three quarters, the Redblacks couldn’t get out of their own way in the fourth, allowing the Lions to frantically claw back.

The rare home win was only secured when an interception by DL Jonathan Newsome cut short a promising Lions drive with just over a minute remaining in the game.

Here are my thoughts on the win:

1) While his numbers weren’t quite up to the typical standard he’s set for himself this season, given that Ottawa won, it’s likely that Trevor Harris doesn’t care. For three quarters Harris efficiently spread the ball around and led scoring drives with ease. He went 30/45 (66%) for 326 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. The latter interception was incredibly ill timed as it allowed the Lions to rally within a single score. The other took points off the board in the 3rd quarter as it was an end zone interception. On a night when the Redblacks rarely stretched the field deep (perhaps due to Harris re-injuring his throwing hand), Harris dinked and dunked his way to 27 first downs. It wasn’t a sexy performance by any means but after coming out on the wrong side of so many close games, nobody in R-Nation is complaining.

2) Offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo had an excellent day of play calling. Elizondo had his offence humming, and kept BC’s defence off balance with a good mix of play action, roll outs and misdirection plays. The offence racked up 396 yards of offence as it averaged 6.1 yards per play. The most notable offensive improvement came on 2nd down, where Ottawa converted 64% of the time (16/25), a 14% increase over their season average. The Redblacks also did a good job in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 3/4 opportunities.

3) In his 4th start of the season, Mossis Madu turned in his biggest performance of the year. Against the league’s best team against the run, Madu pounded and danced his way to 42 hard earned yards and a touchdown (averaging 3.8 per carry). Additionally, he proved to be a reliable pass catching threat out of the backfield, hauling in 5 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Madu’s ability to make people miss in space and run them over in close quarters repeatedly extended drives. Given his performance, it’s hard to see Powell drawing back into the lineup next week.

4) Hands up if you had Jake Harty as the top receiver in an Ottawa win. A week after catching his first career touchdown, Harty followed it up with a tremendous performance, turning 7 targets into 6 catches for a team high 68 yards. Many of Harty’s catches were over the middle and led to big hits, but to his credit, he always hung on. With Kenny Shaw appearing to injury his knee, Harty’s breakout game couldn’t have come at a better time. As for the rest of the receiving corps, the Redblacks made a concerted effort to get the ball in Dionate Spencer’s hands and it paid off. Even with two drops, he still managed 7 catches for 61 yards and another 13 on a sweep. Big nights for Harty and Spencer meant quieter ones for the Buds, but Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson still made their presence felt, with a combined 6 catches for 101 yards. Josh Stangby also chipped in with 4 catches for 28 yards. If Ottawa can maintain that kind of balance and production from their receivers, they’ll pose a ton of matchup problems going forward.

5) Great to see the offensive line finally keep a clean sheet and avoid giving up a sack. Although Harris still took a couple of shots, the combination of stronger offensive line play and pre-designed roll outs and play action meant Harris wasn’t continually battered. The group did a good job of picking up the blitz and pounding the ball on the ground to keep the defence honest. Aside from a couple of plays near BC’s goal line, the offensive line imposed their will in short yardage situations.

6) For three and a half quarters, Mark Nelson’s defence was pitching an impressive shutout. They forced a QB change, had an end zone interception and only allowed BC to convert 52% of their 2nd down opportunities. Although they collapsed in the 4th quarter, allowing three scoring drives, one of those was the result of a near pick six. Still, there was a lot to like about the Redblacks’ defensive performance, starting with the fact that they found a way to make a play at the end to seal the win. Jonathan Newsome’s interception was massive and capped off a strong night for him. Other defensive standouts included Corey Tindal (7 tackles, 1 INT), Sherrod Baltimore (7 tackles and the tip that led to Newsome’s INT) and Avery Ellis (4 tackles, 3 QB pressures).

7) In their first game against Ottawa since leaving the team, neither Jeremiah Johnson nor Chris Williams were massive difference makers. Johnson was limited to 31 yards on the ground and 39 in the air (but did manage a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns), while Williams (who was blanketed by Jonathan Rose most of the night) had 3 catches for 23 yards.

8) After going 4/4, Brett Maher’s consecutive field goal streak now sits at 14. As for his convert streak, it sits at zero, as the Redblacks allowed yet another kick to be blocked this season. Overall, it was a strong special teams performance, as the always dangerous Chris Rainey was (mostly) limited in his returns by disciplined downfield coverage. As for Ottawa’s return game, Spencer was phenomenal, busting off returns of 91, 61 and 27 yards. It’s highly encouraging that even with Quincy McDuffie sidelined, the Redblacks still have a legitimate return threat.

9) The win was a costly one for the Redblacks, with Kenny Shaw, Jean-Philippe Bolduc, Nick Taylor and Antoine Pruneau all leaving the game at various points with injuries. Of the four, Shaw’s seems to be the most serious. Harris also hurt his hand, but was able to remain in the game. If Bolduc or Pruneau can’t go next week, it may force a ratio shuffle.

10) This game was a statement win by the Redblacks, though it is marred by their late collapse. After blowing a CFL high four 4th quarter leads this season, many in the nation’s capital couldn’t help but feel a creeping sense of dread set in. Thankfully, the defence found a way to force a turnover, and the offence moved the chains one last time to kill the clock and secure the victory. It may not seem like much, but consecutive wins go a long way towards building positive momentum.

11) With the win, Ottawa moves into 2nd place in the East and within striking distance of the 1st place Argos. With their next three games coming against Montreal (twice) and the Ticats, the Redblacks have a real opportunity to put their poor start behind them.

12) Nice to finally see another sellout crowd rewarded with a rare home victory. It’s just the second Redblacks’ win at TD Place since last November’s East Final.

13) Kudos to OSEG for embracing Ottawa Capital Pride. Whether it was on social media, with the flag on the field before the game or their commitment to march in the parade on Sunday, the Redblacks have shown that they’re more than just a football team, they’re part of the community.

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).