No tricks or treats for R-Nation (& 12 other thoughts on losing to Calgary)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

In Ottawa’s annual Halloween-themed game, the only truly scary thing was the home team’s performance. The Redblacks were defeated by the visiting Calgary Stampeders by a score of 26-13 in front of a crowd of 15,280.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Lots to like from Caleb Evan’s game tonight. To start with, he didn’t turn the ball over. In previous weeks when faced with pressure, he had a tendency to throw up a risky pass and hope for the best. Against the Stamps, Evans either used his legs to buy time, ate the sack or threw the ball away. Nothing was forced.

Evans completed 15 of the 29 passes he attempted for 173 yards and a touchdown. He continued to show that when given time, he can go through his reads and make accurate throws. He also made a couple of excellent tosses while stepping up into the pocket and when he was flushed from it. Evans did a good job keeping his eyes down the field which let him hit open receivers or take off into space. He finished the game with eight scrambles for 68 yards.

Evans wasn’t exactly a one-man show, but he was the only player regularly moving the chains.

2) Paul LaPolice’s offence started off hot, finishing the first quarter with 140 yards of offence, but quickly cooled off, amassing just 130 yards the rest of the game.

The Redblacks wound up with 270 yards of net offence and 16 first downs. As has been the case all season long, they struggled to sustain drives.

It probably didn’t help they they averaged two yards per first-down play. Looking at the stats you might think that was offset by the 8.4 yards they averaged on second down, yet their second down conversion rate was only 42 percent. How does that math add up? It works when you take into account all of the negative plays; specifically sacks and penalties.

After eschewing the run in previous weeks, LaPolice called a more balanced game — 15 runs to 29 passes — but still had a couple of puzzling decisions. His fondness for calling play-action fake receiver reverses — be it a receiver pass or just mis-direction — is ill-advised considering the state of his offensive line.

The offence never got into any kind of rhythm. Ottawa’s longest drives weren’t the result of scheming, but of Evans ad libbing while evading pressure. How much better would things have gone for the Redblacks if there were more designed rollouts?

Of the Redblacks’ 13 offensive possessions, eight ended in punts, two were turned over on downs and three result in points. Nine of their drives gained less than 20 yards. Five gained less than three yards.

It’s fair to note there’s not a lot of depth at receiver, but there has to be ways to get playmakers like Ryan Davis, R.J. Harris and Kenny Stafford more involved. And if Anthony Coombs was brought in to play Nic Demski’s role in LaPolice’s offence, he needs more than two targets in first and fourth quarters.

Through twelve games, Ottawa has scored 10 touchdowns in 177 possessions. Only Saskatchewan in 1979 (15 touchdowns in 16 games) and B.C. in 1954 (11 in 16) have averaged less than one per game.

3) Last week I was critical of the coaching staff for thrusting Delvin “Duck” Hodges into the game when all it seemed to achieve was disrupting the flow of the offence. So this week I tip my hat to them for not making the same mistake.

I believe there’s a role for Duck on this team in 2022, but what it is exactly remains to be seen. Some in R-Nation would like to see Duck in action right now. I’m somewhat sympathetic to those desires because the front office probably does need to an extended look at him playing meaningful snaps to determine how they approach the position in the off-season.

But on the other hand, I’m of the mind that if you truly do like how Evans has progressed over his six starts, you continue to start him and let him work through any growing pains that crop up. The reps Evans is getting now are fundamental to his development; you simply can’t simulate the intensity or pressure of game situations in practice.

With all that said, it’ll be interesting to see how the coaches handle the position for the team’s final two games. If Duck is going to get a start, it probably makes for it to come after the bye week and in the season finale vs Montreal.

4) Ottawa’s atrocious injury luck continued when running back De’Lance Turner pulled up lame on a fourth quarter run. Until then, he had been running powerfully and averaging 4.2 yards per rush. His 13 carries were good for 55 yards.

When Turner left the game, the Redblacks once again found themselves with no-one actually dressed on their game roster for the position because Brendan Gillanders was out too (more on that in a bit). Like I mentioned last week, this has happened to Ottawa repeatedly in 2021. They keep finding themselves out of players at various positions. None of the eight linebackers dressed filled in for Turner but thankfully Coombs has a skillset that allowed him to step in.

5) Carleton alum Nate Behar had an excellent night with a game-high 98 receiving yards. Behar continues to prove that he had not only make the tough contested catches over the middle, but is also able to find holes in defensive zones and make defenders miss in space; 44 of his 98 yards came after the catch.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Ryan Davis one handed snag deserves serious consideration as Ottawa’s catch of the year. Not only was it a thing of beauty, it likely prevented an interception.

Kenny Stafford’s touchdown is exactly the kind of effort you want to see a veteran receiver making for his rookie quarterback. Evans trusted him enough to throw up a jump ball, Stafford went up and got it.

Shame nothing else came his way the rest of the game.

6) 12 games and 12 different offensive line combinations. If that’s not a CFL record, it has to be close. From left to right, the unit lining up against the Stamps was American Dino Boyd, Canadians Jakub Szott, Mark Korte, Andrew Pickett and Global Chris Ferguson.

The group gave up five sacks but the only reason it wasn’t another double digit sack performance is entirely due to Evans’ mobility and shiftiness. Pickett’s first start of the season at right guard was rough. But not nearly as rough as the play of Ottawa’s tackles. The way Boyd and Ferguson were continually pushed back at the snap of the ball made it seem like they were wearing rollerblades, not cleats.

When Boyd was shaken up and had to leave the game, Ketel Asse replaced him. Thankfully no other lineman were hurt, because there was nobody else behind Asse. Like they have all season long, Ottawa only dressed six offensive linemen, even though it’s burned them a handful of times.

The offensive line’s unacceptable play continues to hinder the offence as a whole. At this point in the year there’s no easy solutions, but a couple of quick fixes would be a fresh face at right tackle — it’s impossible to justify continued starts for Ferguson — and play-calling that doesn’t ask them to hold blocks for too long or have receivers and running backs moving East to West in the backfield with the ball in their hands.

7) Keeping with the Halloween theme, Mike Benevides’ defence was as soft as the goop you scoop out of a pumpkin before you carve it.

Even if the defence didn’t give up a ton of points, they never got a stop when they needed it, generated a single turnover when the game was out of reach, failed to notch a sack and overall, were just too easy to play against.

Did the Redblacks blitz at all? If so, I missed it. It seems like the plan was to sit back and let Bo Levi Mitchell pick them apart, and he was more than happy to oblige.

Speaking of Mitchell, Calgary’s quarterback cracked the 30,000 yard passing mark for his career with his performance against Ottawa and it was likely the least stressful 242 yards of his career total. I say that because not only was he not hit, I’m not sure any Redblacks defender even got a hand on him. No wonder he completed 76 percent of his passes. With the win, Mitchell is now 8-2-2 in his career vs the Redblacks.

In addition to being carved up through the air, the Stamps imposed their will by pounding the ball on the ground; Ka’Deem Carey averaged 6.4 yards per rush and finished the night with 103 rushing yards.

Calgary racked up 372 yards of net offence, 22 first downs and went two-of-three in the red zone. Coming into the game the Stampeders were averaging 6.8 yards per first down play. Against the Redblacks they averaged 7.9.

Of their 12 possessions, six ended in points and six gained 30+ yards. Only three drives failed to pick up a first down.

If you’re looking for positives, linebacker Avery Williams made eight tackles while also forcing and recovering a fumble. Justin Howell — filling in for the injured Antoine Pruneau at safety — made three tackles. Ranthony Texada had a nice pass breakup in his first career start.

8) Another game, another stellar special teams performance wasted. Lewis Ward nailed both of his kicks and has now made his last 23 attempts inside of 47 yards. Riche Leone punted eight times for a 41.1 yard average field flip. Howell, Nigel Romick and Frederic Chagnon each had a pair of special teams tackles. After last week’s shaky performance long snapping, Chagnon had just one low snap. It might seem like nitpicking but he’s replacing the golden standard in Louis-Philippe Bourassa.

9) When it was announced this week that Canadians Brendan Gillanders and Cleyon Laing were going the Century Club with their 100th career games, many in R-Nation hoped they’d find ways to make their milestone game as special as Pruneau did earlier this season when he sealed a win with a timely interception.

Instead, Gillanders was injured on the first play of the game, had to be carried off the field and was later seen on the sidelines in a boot and on crutches. Laing finished the game with two tackles.

10) Hands down my favourite play of the game was Calgary trying for the most Canadian Hail Mary attempt possible. With the Redblacks in a prevent defence and only rushing three, the Stamps throw a short pass to Markeith Ambles, who then punted the ball.

The execution was poor but full credit for the attempt. Had Ambles’ kick gone far, not high, worst case it would’ve been a rouge. But it could have been much more. If Ottawa’s defenders were confused and delayed picking it up, any Calgary player behind Ambles when he kicked the ball could’ve recovered it – potentially for a touchdown – as they would have been onside, forgoing the need to give five yards.

Can this CFL exclusive Hail Mary please become a thing? Thanks, all fans of chaotic football.

11) As much as Ottawa’s season has gone off the rails, one thing that has been noticeably lacking is penalties. The Redblacks have been pretty disciplined in terms of not having laundry cost them in important moments. Until tonight that is. An offside penalty on Romick in the first quarter turned a punt into a field goal.

Down six late in the third quarter, Ottawa faced a third-and-one from Calgary’s 11 yard line. They went for it and got a fresh set of downs on an Evans quarterback sneak. But a procedure flag — meaning someone wasn’t set for a full second before the snap of the ball — turned a first and goal situation into a Ward field goal. 16-13 was as close as Ottawa got on the scoreboard and they never made it as deep into Calgary territory for the remainder of the game.

12) Disappointing that fans at TD Place were yet again forced to sit through another uninspired losing effort. The 2021 nightmare season has seen the Redblacks go 1-6 at their home stadium. Nothing is really new about the home struggles, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for all involved.

Two games remain before the curtains drop and this roster gets blown up. The fact that so many jobs are on the line should keep R-Nation tuning in, along with the possibility of preventing a division rival from hosting a home playoff game.

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).