Redblacks hang on for an ultra rare West Coast win (& 12 other thoughts)

In a season of games that have been lost on the thinnest of margins, the Ottawa Redblacks finally wound up on the right side of a close one. It required them clawing back from a 19 point deficit, a surprise onside kick, 24 unanswered points and a last play end zone drop, but the Redblacks got the job done with a 30-25 victory. It was just the 7th win (in 31 games) for an Ottawa team visiting BC since 1961.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on the game:

1) In his first game back after missing three to injury, Trevor Harris took awhile to shake off the rust. But shake it off he did, finishing the night with 380 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 73.7% completion percentage. After being forced by excellent BC coverage in the first half to forced to repeatedly check the ball down, over the final 30 minutes, Harris was able to find success taking shots down the field, completing passes of 29, 45 and 70 yards. Harris did a good job of spreading the ball around, as reflected by the fact that six of the seven receivers who caught a pass finished the game with three or more catches. Harris’ return to the field was exactly what the doctor ordered for Ottawa.

2) On their first nine possessions Jamie Elizondo’s offence mustered seven punts (including four two and outs) and two field goals. On the next four, a switch flipped and they scored three touchdowns and a field goal. Elizondo’s unit finished the game with 474 yards of net offence, 21 first downs and averaged 8.3 yards per play. After being held in check in the first half, Ottawa found success as they began to stretch the field in the second half. Elizondo struck a playcalling balance with a pass to run ratio of 2:1. As always, there remains room for improvement; even averaging 6.4 yards per 1st down play, the Redblacks 2nd down conversion rate was just 48% (12/25). Ottawa was also just 50% (2/4) in the red zone.

3) Despite finishing with 124 all purpose yards, William Powell fell just short of becoming the second player in Ottawa’s CFL history to string together four consecutive 100 yard games. Powell had 17 carries for 92 yards (5.4 per carry) and was a key safety valve for Harris, as he checked down 5 passes to Powell for 32 yards. The most impressive aspect of Powell’s receiving yards is that 25 of them came after the catch, a testament to his ability to run through arm tackles and make defenders miss.

4) Is there any Redblacks player happier than Greg Ellingson that Harris is back under centre? I don’t think so. Once again, Ellingson and Harris showed why they are one of the league’s best QB/WR combos. Ellingson turned his 9 targets into 7 catches, 149 yards and 2 touchdowns. Harris also seemed to have some chemistry with Diontae Spencer, who hauled in 3 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. As for the rest of the receiving corps, Brad Sinopoli had a relatively quiet night, making just 3 catches for 20 yards, but it was enough to put the former Ottawa U Gee-Gee QB over the 1000 yard mark for the third consecutive season. FB Patrick Lavoie was a factor in the screen game, making 5 catches for 32 yards. Lastly, Juron Criner and Jake Harty combined for 5 catches and both averaged 7 yards per catch.

5) Ottawa’s offensive line may be full of backups, but don’t tell them that. For the second game in a row, Jake Silas, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas, Matt Albright and Jason Lauzon-Séguin anchored a strong offensive attack. The group is playing solid and clearly, as they get more reps together, gelling. The offensive line kept a clean sheet, giving up no sacks and more importantly limited QB pressures to five. Harris took a handful of hits but the worst shot of the night was not as a result of poor protection, but rather due to him holding on to the ball too long. Bryan Chiu’s unit also got it on the ground, averaging 4.9 yards per carrying and converting all 3rd and short opportunities.

6) On a night when the defence was torched in the air (giving up 375 yards and 3 touchdowns), they got the job done on the ground, limiting BC to just 62 yards. They also proved to be extremely opportunistic, generating two turnovers which turned into a touchdown and a field goal. The defence was also lucky, as not only did Chris Williams drop a sure touchdown in the end zone, but there was more than one play where Jonathan Jennings and an open receiver were not on the same page. Not to mention the final play of the game in which Bryan Burnham nearly made the catch that would’ve won it for the Lions. Mark Nelson’s unit was led by 6 tackles from Winston Rose and 5 apiece from Jonathan Rose, Serderius Bryant and Jerrell Gavins, who also forced a fumble. Overall, tackling must improve, as too often the first Ottawa defender was unable to bring down the ball carrier.

7) Although Antoine Pruneau only made a single defensive tackle, he was still instrumental in Ottawa’s victory, as he was the player who managed to recover the Redblacks’ surprise onside kick. Pruneau is so valuable to the Redblacks not only because of his defensive efforts (56 tackles, 3 interceptions and a sack), but because of his special teams contributions.

8) Is the Quincy McDuffie as a punt returner experiment finally over? Last night saw Diontae Spencer handle all punt return duties and he looked explosive, averaging 9.8 yards per return with long returns of 22 and 50 yards (though the latter was wiped out by a seemingly phantom call). I get that McDuffie was dynamic and one of the CFL’s best returners last year, but football is the ultimate game of what have you done for me now, and right now, McDuffie simply isn’t producing.

9) Kudos to Rick Campbell for the decision to call an onside kick. Campbell caught the Lions completely off guard and swung momentum firmly in his team’s favour. On a night when the Redblacks needed a jolt, Campbell didn’t hesitate to play aggressive. If the confidence gained by the team carries over into their next game, that onside kick might not have just turned the tide in this game, but perhaps the season.

10) While I loved Campbell’s onside kick decision, I wasn’t so enamoured with decision to use his challenge on Spencer’s receiving touchdown. Clearly, it was a blown call, but to me, Ottawa still had the ball at the one yard line, and although nothing in life is guaranteed, given how well the Redblacks have converted in short yardage this year (28/30 on 2nd or 3rd and 1), I would’ve taken my chances with three cracks at a QB sneak. With the ways the rules currently are, I’m always in favour of hoarding the challenge until the 4th quarter because if a pivotal call comes up, I simply don’t trust the refs to get it right.

11) Speaking of the officials, there were a number of awful calls. Getting back to Campbell’s challenge, if the so called eye in the sky had simply told the on-field official that the score was good, Ottawa wouldn’t have had to waste their challenge. The most baffling aspect of the entire situation is that earlier in the game, BC’s Shaquille Johnson scored in a similar manner and that was immediately ruled a touchdown. There was also a clearly incomplete pass to Greg Ellingson which was ruled a fumble recovered by Sinopoli and on a play in which BC either jumped offside or someone on the Redblacks offensive line moved early, officials were unable to figure out who to flag (even with the help of the eye in the sky) so they called a mulligan and simply replayed the down. There was also a phantom call late in the 4th quarter that wiped out a 50 yard punt return. Officials said Ron Omara (#42) committed an illegal block but TSN was unable to locate a replay of it. All in all, not the finest night for the zebras.

12) Given the massive playoff implications, this was a game the Redblacks had to have. With a suddenly resurgent Ticat group creeping up (and with two games in hand), Ottawa has given themselves a five point cushion. That’s still not enough for many in R-Nation but it’ll have to do for now. Furthermore, with the Argos losing, the Redblacks have moved to within a point of the division lead, but again, the Argos have a game in hand. For Ottawa the math is simple, if they win out (or at least beat the Ticats in their regular season finale), they secure a home playoff game. But before they play the Ticats, the Redblacks have a high stakes date with Saskatchewan at Mosaic Stadium.

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).