Redblacks’ stars re-write the history books in wild win(& 10 other thoughts)

For the first quarter and a half, it looked like the Ottawa Redblacks were still on their bye week. The offence was stagnant, the defence soft and boo birds could be heard among the home crowd.

But then Diontae Spencer, Greg Ellingson and William Powell each decided to scribble themselves a page in the thick book that is Ottawa’s storied CFL history.

Their efforts, along with three touchdowns in the last six minutes of the 4th quarter, led the Redblacks to victory in their CFL record 14th single score game.

Here are all my thoughts on Ottawa’s wild 41-36 win over Hamilton:

1) Even a slow start and an apparent shoulder injury couldn’t slow Trevor Harris down. Despite not having anything going until well into the second quarter and being on the sidelines (in pain) for the team’s first touchdown of the night, Harris still managed to throw for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns while completing 68% of his passes. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as he was picked three times (although two were directly the result of tipped passes) and was fortunate to get away with a few other throws too. Despite the turnovers, Harris finished the regular season on a personal high note. That said, fair or not, Harris’ 2017 season won’t be remembered for anything that’s happened so far, but for what happens next.

2) You’d think that with 15 days off and a bye week at his disposal, offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo would’ve put together an aggressive game plan that came out firing. And to be fair, maybe he did, though it certainly didn’t show on the field. The Redblacks’ first five possessions resulted in three two and outs and two turnovers on downs. Their first first down came at the 7:40 mark of the 2nd quarter and yet somehow, Ottawa still finished the night with 471 yards of offence and 26 first downs. The Redblacks have success when Elizondo balances his play calling and doesn’t lean too heavily on Harris’ arm or the ground game, and against Ticats Ottawa had a healthy 2 to 1 ratio of pass to run. For all the Redblacks’ success in the red zone (3/5), going 2/4 on two point conversions isn’t ideal. Some of that can be chalked up to the fact that the Redblacks seemingly only have one two point convert play; a handoff/draw to the running back up the gut. At this point everyone in the league knows what’s coming, even the guys added to practice rosters yesterday. I love the aggressiveness of going for two so often but Elizondo shouldn’t hesitate to dig deeper into his playbook in those situations. Lastly, Elizondo is extremely fortunate that his decision to use Harris in a QB sneak didn’t result in a serious injury. Bet that doesn’t happen again.

3) It took him until his 17th carry of the night, but William Powell dipped, danced and pounded his way into the history books, becoming the first 1000 yard rusher in Redblacks’ franchise history. Powell’s mix of patience and vision allow him to exploit massive cutback lanes, which is why he finished the night with 133 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Crazy to think that a year ago many were wondering if he’d ever return to form after suffering a torn Achilles.

4) To say that Diontae Spencer put on a show for the 24,871 members of R-Nation on hand would be an understatement. Spencer weaved, sprinted and slashed his way into the history books, setting a new CFL record with 496 all-purpose yards. In a performance that won’t soon be forgotten, he made 9 catches for 133 yards, returned 7 punts for 169 yards, 6 kickoffs for 165 yards and took a missed field goal 29 yards. It’s great news for the Redblacks that as the games start to matter most, Spencer looks to be at the top of his craft.

5) As for the rest of the receiving corps, Greg Ellingson etched another milestone in his career, setting the Ottawa franchise record for catches in a season with 96. He also caught a touchdown for the 4th straight game and finished the night with 65 yards. In his fourth start since returning from a knee injury, Juron Criner finally looks to be completely recovered, announcing his return with 6 catches for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns. As well as the receiving corps played, drops were an issue, with Ellingson, Criner, Spencer, Jake Harty, Patrick Lavoie and Dominique Rhymes all guilty of an infraction.

6) Film study on Monday isn’t going to fun for Mark Nelson’s defence. Not only did they give up 482 yards (8.2 yards per play), 29 first downs and allow Hamilton to score touchdowns on 3/4 red zone trips, they also failed to force a turnover and only sacked Masoli once. Antoine Pruneau was a lone standout with 8 tackles, but the rest of the secondary were like disregarded marshmallows on an open flame; torched. In particular Corey Tindal and Winston Rose had games to forget, as they were beat deep early and often. Both were also flagged for defensive pass interference (37 and 41 yard flags respectively). Nick Taylor, in for the injured Jerrell Gavins, twice lost his man in the end zone with the result being Ticat touchdowns. He also dropped an interception that could’ve been a pick six.

7) On a night when the offence struggled to get rolling, special teams kept the Redblacks close when they really didn’t deserve to be. Two fake punts, both brilliantly executed (the first an onside kick recovered by Harty, the second a pass foiled by a drop from Lavoie), caught Hamilton completely off-guard. They also injected a bit of life into an otherwise listless team. Brett Maher made all his kicks, including a season long 53 yard field goal. But the real story of the night was Ottawa’s return game. Not to toot my own horn, but for weeks I’ve been clamouring for Spencer to stop sharing duties with Quincy McDuffie and handle all returns. I never imagined he’d average 25.9 yards per return in a game though. It’s no stretch to say that Spencer is the most explosive returner in an Ottawa uniform since Jason Armstead.

8) Rick Campbell often talks about playing aggressive and you’ve got to admire the fact he walks the walk when it comes to his talk. For the third game in a row, Campbell didn’t hesitate to reach into his bag of tricks when he thought his team needed a spark. He was even ballsy enough to do it twice the same drive and it quite nearly worked. He also had his team attempt four two point converts, but oddly, after Powell’s late 4th quarter run made it a 40-36 game, when a two point convert would’ve helped the most, Campbell chose to kick a single and settle for a 5 point lead. It was his lone blemish in an otherwise well coached game.

9) It’s not often a team commits five turnovers and still ends up in the win column. While the turnovers kept things close (it was Ottawa’s 14th single score game of the season), ultimately the Redblacks did enough to win. Whether it was putting up 19 unanswered points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters or scoring three touchdowns in the game’s final six minutes, the 2017 Redblacks have proven themselves to be a resilient team and never out of any game. In theory that’ll count for something in the playoffs.

10) Speaking of the playoffs, with the win, Ottawa moves back ahead of the Argos for 1st in the East. Dependant on the outcome of Toronto’s visit to BC next week, the Redblacks could be looking at their third consecutive division title. Either way, they’ve matched last season’s 8-9-1 record and will have a home playoff game. With the team’s second bye week schedule for next week, if the Redblacks do indeed wind up winning the East, they could be looking at the prospect of only playing a single game in 37 days. But given that that game would be the East Final with a berth in the Grey Cup at TD Place on the line, I doubt you’d hear much grumbling from the nation’s capital.

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).