Refs ruin the rally & 11 other thoughts on Ottawa losing to Montreal

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Was officiating a major factor in the Ottawa Redblacks’ latest loss? Undeniably.

Yet it was far from the only reason Paul LaPolice’s squad was defeated by a score of 40-33 by the visiting Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) With the recently acquired Nick Arbuckle breathing down his neck, Caleb Evans had a fantastic outing against Montreal. The 23-year-old looked comfortable marching Ottawa’s offence up and down the field and while there were a handful of throws that got away from him, Evans did a good job of going through his reads quickly and making smart decisions with the football.

On top of completing 25 of his 40 pass attempts for 297 yards and a touchdown, he scrambled eight times for 52 yards and another two scores. Most importantly, the sophomore quarterback avoided turning the ball over.

Evans looked especially poised on the game’s final drive as he led the team down to Montreal’s red zone before using his feet to buy time and throw what should have been the game-tying touchdown.

If Evans continues to play the way he did last night, Arbuckle is only going to see the field in short-yardage situations.

2) Even with the offence having their best outing of the year — scoring a season-high 33 points — head coach and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice repeatedly chose the safe (boring) route when presented with multiple opportunities to be aggressive. It was as if he was coaching during a game of sudden death overtime, afraid of making a mistake and not like his team was 0-5 with the season slipping away.

The stats are impressive: 469 yards of offence, 30 first downs, a 65 percent conversion rate on second down, and 7-of-14 possessions moving the ball 40+ yards. Yet those numbers were offset by the fact that too often great starting field position was wasted. Turnovers were followed by two-and-outs. Nine drives lasted five plays or less. Creativity was limited to the occasional play-action or jet sweep.

More than once, LaPolice’s conservative calls told the offence he didn’t believe in them. That cautiousness came back to haunt the team in yet another one-score loss.

Up 8-0 and on Montreal’s 33-yard line in the first quarter, why not send a message by going for it on third-and-two? And again right before the half, with 24 seconds left on the clock and the ball on Montreal’s six-yard line, why kick a field goal on third-and-two instead of giving the offence a chance to punch it in?

Following both decisions the body language of the defensive players on the sidelines was unimpressed. As boos rained down from the stands, players simply shook their heads.

The offence actually did quite a bit right against the Alouettes and this should be a performance to build upon, but being more aggressive — in a smart fashion, of course — would do wonders to build up the confidence and morale of this team.

3) Handed the ball a season-high 17 times, 34-year-old running back William Powell responded by generating 79 yards, good for a 4.6 yards per carry average. He also had one catch for no yards.

Powell’s value is not only as a runner but also as a blocker, since he is so effective in pass protection at picking up the blitz. With that said, it would be nice to see him spelled occasionally by the backup running back.

Last night, that would’ve been Canadian Jackson Bennett. Not only is the former Gee-Gee a very capable runner but giving him a carry at home would be throwing a bone to his family and friends, who continue to pack almost half a section of the lower South Side only to watch him participate on special teams.

4) It was a weird night from Ottawa’s receiving corps. Nobody exemplifies that better than Darvin Adams. On one hand, Adams posted season highs in receptions (nine) and yards (118) but the lasting image of him will be the game-tying pass hitting him in the hands and then falling incomplete.

Although a couple of receivers posted solid numbers, there were multiple drive-killing drops. Jaelon Acklin had a strong performance with five catches for 133 yards. Canadian Nate Behar made six receptions for 41 yards but also had a costly fumble — more on that in a minute. R.J. Harris had three for 33 yards. The speedy Shaq Johnson caught one of two targets for 23 yards and Terry Williams’ lone reception went for -1 yard.

5) The Redblacks’ offensive line went mainly unnoticed against the Alouettes, which means they did their job effectively.

Not only did the group pave the way for a healthy 5.3 yards per rushing attempt, but they also only conceded two sacks on 41 dropbacks and generally provided Evans with a clean pocket to move around in. Furthermore, they were only penalized once, which is a good thing because the big boys up front wiping out positive plays always makes coaches apoplectic.

6) There’s no way to sugarcoat just how thoroughly manhandled Mike Benevides’ defence was.

Whether it’s the fact that running back Jeshrun Antwi averaged 11.3 yards per carry — that’s literally a first down every time he was handed the ball — or that Trevor Harris was allowed to complete 80% of his passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns, or that the Alouettes went five-of-six for touchdowns in the red zone, what’s painfully clear is that Ottawa’s veteran defensive unit was bullied.

Poor tackling continues to plague the group, as evidenced by the 129 yards after the catch Montreal produced. Timely stops that could swing momentum were nowhere to be found, as demonstrated by the 11.7 yards the Alouettes averaged on second down. No wonder they converted 59 percent of their second-down opportunities. Three of Montreal’s five second-half possessions (not counting their final series kneel down) resulted in touchdown drives.

Watching former Ottawa quarterbacks Harris and Dominique Davis find the end zone a combined five times is certainly one way to mess with R-Nation’s head.

7) An injury to Justin Howell meant that original Redblack Antoine Pruneau made his first start of the season. The 32-year-old has been toiling on special teams this year — and occasionally rotating in on certain defensive packages — but given the chance to settle in, the veteran turned back the clock and strutted his stuff.

On top of finishing with six tackles, Pruneau’s hustle on punt coverage also resulted in a safety.

His gutsy effort should serve as a reminder that even though Pruneau isn’t a regular starter anymore, when called upon, he can perform.

8) It’s hard to overstate just how incredible Bob Dyce’s units played. They put points on the board, thanks to Pruneau’s safety. They caused a turnover, thanks to Shaheed Salmon’s big hit and Richie Leone’s recovery. And they limited the league’s most dangerous returner, Chandler Worthy, to only 1.8 yards per punt return and 18 yards per kickoff return.

Much of that had to do with Leone. Ottawa’s American punter was once again spectacular, smashing five punts for 243 yards and averaging a net field position flip of 46.8 yards. A week after making three tackles, he recovered a fumble on the game’s opening kick, knocking the ball out of bounds. Talk about a punter who can do it all.

Richie Leone-Ottawa RedBlacks-21-july2022-Photo: Scott Grant

Kicker Lewis Ward made kicks of 15, 13 and 37 yards but missed from 40. While Terry Williams failed to find the end zone, he consistently brought R-Nation to its feet, averaging 14.7 yards per punt return and 24.8 yards per kickoff return.

9) I’ve made a point of not criticizing the officials this season — I chose not to mention last week’s clearly missed hold on Hamilton’s winning touchdown pass, for example. Every team can use flags as an excuse for a poor outcome, but please indulge me on this rant.

Last night’s officiating was atrocious. Andre Proulx and his crew were flat-out terrible. There was an obvious safety ruled down at the one that needed way too long to be reviewed, chintzy defensive pass interference calls on both teams, a head-scratching decision on the Nate Behar fumble, and a butchered finish that had the 21,537 fans on hand seeing red.

In theory, the Command Centre is only supposed to buzz down to fix obvious and blatantly missed infractions. But having them call down to overrule decisions made by the officiating crew on the field that are — at best — a coin flip, is egregious.

Should we now expect the Command Centre to start calling holds? Because if last night is the new standard, they might wind up disagreeing with their crew at some point and want to make their presence known.

In fact, if the Command Centre is going to start weighing in on borderline calls, why have refs on the field at all? Just do everything from the booth. It’s a truly poor look for the league when their head referee is captured on the replay screen shrugging his shoulders as if to say “I have no clue, I made the right call” while explaining to the crowd that the high tackle frozen on the replay screen isn’t in fact a high tackle.

I want to be clear, I’m not blaming the loss on the officials. The Redblacks were defeated because their defence couldn’t stop a nosebleed, their play-calling was overly conservative, their kicker missed a makable field goal and their receivers dropped two touchdowns in the end zone. With that said, the men and women in stripes did Ottawa exactly zero favours.

Amongst all the confusion and delays and replay checking, the ending to an otherwise highly entertaining game was ruined.

10) OSEG should be looking to hire priests to perform an exorcism, start burning incense before home games or begin asking old ladies of various ethnicities if they know any way to lift the curse hovering around Lansdowne.

How the Redblacks have managed to muster a single win in their last 18 home games is beyond comprehension. It’s just so much losing.

Hat tip to all those members of R-Nation who continue to trek to the stadium despite knowing the outcome is foretold and unavoidable. At this point, the only thing that remains to be discovered when Ottawa plays at home is how they’ll lose, not if.

11) With the loss, Ottawa drops to 0-6 and with the third of the season gone, are entrenched as the league’s worst team.

It doesn’t matter that this was the Redblacks’ fifth one-score loss. That’s no comfort to an increasingly pissed-off fan base. R-Nation is sick of hearing about guys trying hard. Fans don’t care about almost. Fans don’t care that the players gave it their all. What they care about is that yet again, the final scoreboard showed the other team with a higher points total.

Many are clamouring for a mid-season coaching change but that’s unlikely for two reasons. For starters, OSEG typically shies away from such moves. Be it with the Redblacks, Fury or 67s, they rarely fire coaches once a season is underway. Second, the best option on the market just joined a rival down the 401.

It remains to be seen what the Redblacks will do to try and salvage the season but at some point, something needs to give. Otherwise, an irate fan base will completely check out.

With a full ten days to prep for a trip to BMO Field to tangle with the Argos, LaPolice needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

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).