Redblacks rule the East with soggy win over Ticats

Trevor Harris and the Ottawa Redblacks will need just one post-season victory to play in a third Grey Cup game in four years.

Harris threw three TD passes as Ottawa clinched first in the East Division with a 30-13 road win over Hamilton on a cold, wet and windy Saturday night. The Redblacks earned their fifth straight victory at Tim Hortons Field and swept the season series with the Tiger-Cats 3-0.

“It’s huge, just for us to be able to lick our wounds, get some guys back that aren’t really healthy and kind of be able to self-assess, self-scout a little bit,” Harris said. “One game from the show.

“By no means is the sentence finished. There’s no period yet … we just put a comma in there because it’s time for playoff time and for us to even turn it up another notch.”

Harris cemented the victory with a 79-yard bomb to Diontae Spencer at 10:44 of the third quarter into a stiff wind that put the Redblacks ahead 27-13. It came before an the announced Tim Hortons Field gathering of 23,329, but no more than 3,000 took in the contest, which was played in steady rain and a brisk 34-kilometre-an-hour wind.

Harris was 23-of-30 passing for 267 yards before giving way to Dominique Davis in the fourth. Ottawa (10-7) will complete its regular season next weekend against Toronto, then be off until the East final Nov. 18.

The weather was the big story Saturday and Ottawa’s ability to handle it. The Redblacks outscored Hamilton 14-4 when the Ticats had the wind and 16-9 when the visitors had it at their back.

“It (weather) was big,” Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said. “The key thing we talked about at the hotel (Saturday morning) was, ‘This is the CFL, you have to embrace the bad weather and not let it get it you off your game.’

“The big thing was when they had the wind, we won those quarters point-wise and that’s huge. Our guys rose to the occasion and those were two key quarters for us.”

Campbell said Ottawa’s offence is geared to succeed in bad weather.

“I think this weather plays into our offence and (Harris),” Campbell said. “He’s an accurate thrower and we have some big targets that can catch some balls.

“Good on him for not being fazed in the moment and coming up big when we needed him to.”

Ottawa slotback Brad Sinopoli had two reasons to celebrate. The 30-year-old Peterborough, Ont., native had seven receptions for 56 yards to break Ben Cahoon’s record for most catches in a season by a Canadian (112 in ’03).

Sinopoli needed four receptions to eclipse Cahoon’s mark but now has 116 catches for 1,376 yards. The two-time Grey Cup champion is the seventh Canadian to reach the 100-catch plateau.

“I’m just very thankful for that,” said Sinopoli, a former Hec Crighton Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Ottawa. “Trevor puts the ball in a spot that makes it very easy in weather like this to catch and he does a very good job of it.

“I’m thankful for the opportunities, it means a lot.”

Harris said Sinopli’s accomplishment kind of sets the record straight.

“We finally have a real Canadian with the record,” he said. “Brad is born and raised, he’s a true Canadian.

“From what I heard, Ben was one of those guys who wasn’t born and raised. I’m glad we Brad with the record now, that will stand for a long time.”

Cahoon was born in Utah but qualified as a Canadian in the CFL because his parents were from Canada and he spent time growing up in Alberta. A three-time Grey Cup winner and twice the league’s top Canadian, Cahoon was a 2014 inductee into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Hamilton (8-9) suffered its second straight loss to Ottawa but has secured a home playoff game heading into its regular-season finale next weekend against Montreal. The Ticats will host the East semifinal Nov. 11 against the West Division crossover squad.

Hamilton’s defence took a big hit prior to the game when cornerback Delvin Breaux was scratched and placed on the one-game injured list after arriving with a swollen knee. Mariel Cooper was activated from the practice roster.

Offensively, Hamilton didn’t score a TD in its first game without receiver Brandon Banks (94 catches, 1,423 yards, 11 TDs). Banks suffered a season-ending broken clavicle in last weekend’s 35-31 road loss to Ottawa.

Banks’ absence is huge for Hamilton. Since Sept. 1, 2017 he and starter Jeremiah Masoli have been the CFL’s top passing combination with 152 completions for 2,341 yards and 18 TDs.

Masoli, who has had 12 300-yard games this season, was 25-of-48 passing for 243 yards with two interceptions.

The Ticats cut Ottawa’s lead to 21-13 at 3:16 of the third on Lirim Hajrullahu’s 41-yard field goal with the wind. But that’s as close they got.

“The bottom line is we’re going to play them again and we’re in the playoffs,” said Hamilton head coach June Jones. “So you’ve got to get your spirits up.

“We’ve got to go win next week and see what all happens. In this league anything can happen as you guys know.”

Spencer and Greg Ellingson had two touchdowns each for Ottawa. Lewis Ward booted a field goal – boosting his pro football record to 46 straight – and a convert while Spencer added a two-point conversion.

Hajrullahu had a single and four field goals.

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