In a game that turned into a battle of kickers, give Ottawa Redblacks rookie Lewis Ward the knockout punch.
Yep, it was that sort of an afternoon that extended into the early evening at Tim Hortons Field – with the Redblacks beating the Ticats 21-15 and putting a firm grip on first place in the CFL East, two wins ahead of Hamilton.
Ward, the Redblacks kicker, booted seven field goals. He’s only missed once this season, way back in Game 1.
Lirim Hajrullahu made two field goals, but missed twice: once on a partial block, the other on an attempt that was wide.
“I told Lewis maybe we should upgrade him to first class,” said Redblacks coach Rick Campbell, on the plane ride home Saturday night.
Ward has been outstanding all season.
“If we don’t get touchdowns, that’s my job, it’s what I’m here for,” said Ward, who battled tricky winds. “We know CFL games can be very close, we’ve had a few of them. I can’t really afford a miss. In the end, it helps us win games.”
“I’ve always said I’m not surprised by (Ward) because of his demeanour,” said Rick Campbell. “To make all those kicks is awesome.”
Maybe it was the wind, maybe it was a superb defensive job by both teams, but it wasn’t exactly edge-of-your seat offensive firepower. Quarterbacks Trevor Harris and Jeremiah Masoli put up some passing yards, but neither could push it into the end zone – until Jalen Saunders caught a 29-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 left.
“We had some timely drives, moving the ball,” said Campbell. “You knew the points were going to be like gold so that’s why we kept kicking field goals. I’m proud of this win the way our guys grinded it out. Sometimes the games aren’t pretty and high-powered with both teams going up and down the field.”
It was 6-5 for the Redblacks at halftime, and it was tough to figure out why, looking at the stats. Harris completed 23-of-35 passes for 228 yards. Masoli completed 26-of-38 passes for 352 yards, but he was often on the run with Redblacks chasing him. He rushed just two times for 10 yards.
Quarterback Trevor Harris expressed some disappointment.
“It’s deflating in a way – with seven scoring drives and we finished none of them in the Red Zone,” said Harris. “It’s something we have to rectify – it’s something championship teams do. Luckily, it’s still early in the season and we have time to address it. I really believe we have a great offence, I believe in what we’re doing. We have to capitalize and finish our opportunities.”
The Redblacks opened the scoring three minutes into the first quarter. Harris completed passes of 10 yards to Greg Ellingson, eight yards to Diontae Spencer and 17 yards to Brad Sinopoli before Ward booted a 42-yard field goal.
The Ticats drove downfield, but a 15-yard field goal attempt by Hajrullahu was deflected by Jonathan Rose and Hamilton got a single.
Another Hamilton drive ended badly for the Ticats when a Masoli pass was tipped by Chris Williams, obtained in a trade earlier in the week, and into the arms of Kevin Brown.
Ward made it 6-1 for Ottawa after a drive that included a 30-yard catch by Sinopoli.
After a sack by Ottawa’s Anthony Cioffi, the Hajrullahu was wide with a 31-yard field goal.
The Ticats, benefiting from a no-yards penalty on the punt and a roughing the passer call on Avery Ellis were — after a sack by George Uko — forced to try a 49-yard field goal attempt and Hajrullahu connected.
The Redblacks had a final chance to increase their lead after a no-yards penalty gave them possession on the Hamilton 47. With four seconds left, on third down, instead of punting, backup quarterback Dominique Davis came in and rifled a pass into the wind. The ball ricocheted around before landing in the hands of RJ Harris on the two-yard line. But time had expired in the half.
The Redblacks started the second half on their own 45 after the Hamilton kickoff bounced out of bounds. A 19-yard completion to Ellingson set up a 48-yard field goal by Ward: it was 9-5 for the visitors.
Another Ward field goal, this time with 1:09 left in the third quarter, made it 12-5.
On a third-and-one gamble, with Ottawa on its own 32, early in the fourth quarter, Davis leaned ahead and got the yardage. On the next play, Harris found William Powell open, with linebacker Simoni Lawrence in coverage, for a 50-yard gain. Another Ward field goal, this time from 35 yards out, made it 15-5.
A horse-collar penalty on George Uko gave the Ticats the ball on the Ottawa 26 with 8 1/2 minutes left. A 17-yard field goal made it 15-8.
A facemasking penalty to Hamilton’s Don Unamba gave Ottawa the ball at centre field. A pass interference penalty on Richard Leonard pushed the ball ahead 28 yards to the Hamilton 27. Ottawa got another Ward field goal.
After Hamilton’s touchdown and convert, Sinopoli cradled the onside kick and Ottawa got the ball at the Ticats 51 with 1:48 left. Ward kicked his seventh field goal of the game from the 44.
Trailing by six, the Ticats got the ball on their own 36 with 39 seconds left. Saunders found a gap in coverage and Masoli found him for a 50-yard gain. But two plays later, Cioffi dropped Masoli for a 12-yard loss. Then, on the next play, AC Leonard sacked the quarterback. Game over.
THE END AROUND: The roads, including the 401 and QEB, leading into Hamilton were jammed Saturday afternoon so there were only a few thousands fans in their seats when the game started at 4 p.m. Attendance was later announced as 23,381 … Several fans were wearing their No. 2 Johnny Manziel Ticat jerseys. With Manziel now in Montreal, former Redblacks receiver Chris Williams was wearing No. 2. And the Ticats are offering a $100 gift card to anybody who wants to return the Manziel jersey … With a weather forecast that was calling for mostly sunny with cloudy periods, well somebody forgot the sun … With an offside call being called on Ottawa, Masoli may have gotten away with intentional grounding with less than 10 minutes left. Seems like a silly call, but the Ticats got nailed with it a week ago.