The face of the football landscape in Ottawa has changed plenty in the 31 years since June Jones was brought in as the Rough Riders’ offensive co-ordinator: new stadium, new surroundings, a new team name and a vibrant fan base with a Grey Cup title to savour.
Jones is hoping his return visit to the nation’s capital is Step No. 2 in turning around the fortunes of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2017.
Jones, who replaced Kent Austin as Ticats head coach two weeks ago, is trying to defy history. No Canadian Football League team starting a season 0-8 has made the playoffs.
On Monday, though, the Ticats beat the Toronto Argonauts 24-22, and on Saturday evening they’ll face an Ottawa Redblacks team that’s first in the East Division at 4-6-1 and has a little momentum of its own from three consecutive wins.
“They may be desperate, but we’re desperate as well, to be honest,” said Redblacks defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, who played with Hamilton for three seasons before signing as a free agent in Ottawa in 2016. “We need to play with that desperate attitude. We don’t need to look at the standings. We just have to go out and try and pile up the wins.”
The Redblacks have paid attention to all that noise around the Ticats — coaching change, starting quarterback change from Zach Collaros to Jeremiah Masoli – but they’re more focused on keeping their own house in order. A win would put them three points up on the Argonauts (4-7) for top spot in the division.
“I think they’re a good team, their record doesn’t show it,” Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell said. “When we played them in Hamilton, they had just played Edmonton close back to back. I’m thinking we’re smart enough to know every team you play in this league has ability and good players. That has kind of been the recipe for us: to worry less about the other team and focus on us playing good football.”
“You always worry about (the opposition), especially a team like Hamilton, they’re a lot better than what people think,” Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris said. “They’ve just had two bad games that got away from them. We have to make sure we execute our game plan because, if we don’t, Hamilton’s a team that could really come up and bite you.”
A couple of weeks ago, the Redblacks beat Hamilton 37-18, but they led by just five points at half-time. Besides, that was a different team and certainly a different system. Jones has installed portions of his “run-and-shoot” offensive schemes.
“We’ve added some things, we’ve continued to run some things that Kent does,” Jones said. “I would say right now it’s like we’re coming out of training camp. We’re probably not executing where we need to, but it’s way better than it was last week, so we’ll just keep getting better hopefully.
“Whenever you come into situations that are upside down, creating the chemistry, creating a new culture and a new belief system, that’s what turns things around. That’s probably true in any business or any locker room. You have to put your stamp on it and get everybody realizing that it matters. It’s not just the x’s and o’s, it’s the other stuff that makes good teams great.”
After stumbling out of the blocks 1-6-1, the Redblacks have put the pedal to the metal in the second half of each of their past two games.
“We have to make sure we’re aggressive and we stay aggressive,” Harris said. “We have to step on people’s throats as opposed to just trying to get out of there. You’re starting to see us doing what we’re capable of and I think we’re going to continue to get better every week.”
The Redblacks aren’t getting wrapped up in changes the Ticats have made.
“There’s not a huge difference,” Campbell said. “You can only do so much in the CFL. You can definitely adapt. I thought they did a good job (against Toronto). They made a big effort to get the ball into 16’s (Brandon Banks’) hands as many times as they could, which makes sense to me.”
THINKING AHEAD: First it’s Hamilton, then it’s Montreal. Campbell doesn’t want Redblacks players thinking ahead. While the first priority is getting into the playoffs, finishing in top spot and gaining an automatic berth into the East final would be huge. Said Harris: “It would be huge in terms of you don’t have to win a game to get to the game to win the Grey Cup. But, at the same time, we’d have bye weeks in weeks 18, 20 and 21. How’s that go toward the end of the year? Obviously, we would choose to get the bye. We have our eyes on winning the East, that’s our first goal, but the goal before that is to win (Saturday) against Hamilton.”
MADU STAYS IN LINEUP: While running back William Powell probably could have played Saturday, he remains on the one-game injured list. It would be tough to remove Mossis Madu Jr. from the lineup based on his recent play. “Madu’s been playing really well, we’re going to get William completely healthy,” Campbell said. “We’re fortunate with both those guys. We don’t seem to miss a beat.” As for receiver Kevin Elliott and receiver/returner Quincy McDuffie, Campbell said: “They’re really close. We’d like to see those guys as soon as possible, particularly McDuffie. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t play next week.”
THE END AROUND: Very funny jab at the Ottawa Senators on the Redblacks’ Twitter account on Friday, with a “breaking” news flash that TD Place stadium would add 1,500 gently used seats to its capacity. A day before, the Senators had announced they were covering 1,500 seats at Canadian Tire Centre to make the building seem more full. The Redblacks tweet was later removed … Retired QB Henry Burris, good old Smilin’ Hank, will be honoured during a ceremony at halftime of the Redblacks-Ticats game.
Hamilton at Ottawa
WHEN: Kickoff just past 6 p.m. on Saturday.
WHERE: TD Place stadium.
RADIO: TSN 1200 AM, FM 104,7, Sirius XM 167 (English), 174 (French)
STREAM: TSN GO
TV: TSN, RDS, ESPN 3 (in the United States)
WEATHER FORECAST: Cloudy periods, temperature of 13C, with winds of 14 km/h
GAME LINE: Ottawa by 11
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Ottawa’s pass catchers
Slotback Brad Sinopoli needs just 190 yards in the final seven regular-season games to hit 1,000 for the third consecutive season year. He leads the league with 71 receptions. Greg Ellingson is closing in on the Ottawa CFL receiving-yards mark of 1,471 set by the Rough Riders’ Gerald Alphin in 1989. The Renegades’ record was 1,307 yards by Jason Armstead in 2005. Ellingson leads the CFL with 13 receptions for gains of 30-plus yards and is second behind Sinopoli’s 32 second-down catches.
2. Ticats receiver Brandon Banks.
Against Toronto, Banks was targeted on 13 of Masoli’s 33 passes, including eight of his first 10. Those 13 targets were one more than Banks had in the previous seven games.
3. Hamilton’s running game
Through the first half of the season, the Ticats have run the ball just 95 times. That puts them on pace for 190 rushing attempts for the season, which would be the second-lowest total for an 18-game season in CFL history. Only the 1995 Birmingham Barracudas had less than that, running 171 times against 814 pass attempts. Ticats running back C.J. Gable has made the most of just 13 carries over the last two games, with 91 yards and four runs of 10-plus yards.
4. Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris
Harris leads the CFL in passing yards (3,531) and passing touchdowns (22). He needs eight completions to hit 1,000 for his career. Harris also leads the CFL with seven fumbles.
5. Redblacks receiver/returner Diontae Spencer
Quincy McDuffie is again out of the lineup because of injury, although he could return next week. The Redblacks haven’t missed a beat with Spencer, who now ranks third in the CFL in combined yards with 1,482.
THE KEY MATCHUP
Ticats QB Jeremiah Masoli vs. Redblacks defence
The Ticats made Masoli their No. 1 QB ahead of Zach Collaros, and Masoli led them to victory at home against Toronto. Masoli’s last start before that was against Ottawa last October, when he completed 27 of 41 passes for a career-high 359 yards. Against Toronto, Masoli, threw deep just three times, but that was a 64-yard touchdown strike to Banks. The Redblacks will have to try and keep Masoli in the pocket. Said Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell: “If the play breaks down, (Masoli) can improvise, use his legs and make throws off balance. That’s where he becomes dangerous.”
INSIDE THE GAME
The Redblacks have won three in a row against B.C., Hamilton and Montreal. That has given them a one-point edge over the Argos for top spot in the CFL East Division. The Tiger-Cats produced their first win last Monday, holding on for a 24-22 decision as Toronto’s Lirim Hajrullahu missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute. A win over Ottawa would put Hamilton back in the playoff hunt, but no 0-8 team has ever rallied to earn a CFL playoff spot. When these teams met Aug. 18, the Redblacks outscored Hamilton 31-8 over the final three quarters, led by a defence that forced eight two-and-outs and held the Ticats to just 206 net yards and 12 first downs. Ettore Lattanzio and Kevin Brown return to the Redblacks’ lineup, taking the spots of Jean-Philippe Bolduc and Mike Wakefield. Mossis Madu Jr. stays in at running back. Madu’s 191 yards accounted for 23 per cent of Ottawa’s net offence over the past two games.
PREDICTION: Ottawa 34, Hamilton 23
The Ticats have a long injury list, with several key players, including defensive tackle Ted Laurent and former Redblacks DB Abdul Kanneh, on the six-game injured list. Both teams have momentum. The Ticats are still a work in progress with new head coach June Jones’ schemes. Tough to choose against the home side.
Points For: 28.5 (4th)
Points Against: 25.0 (2nd)
Net Offence: 375.8 (6th)
Yards Against: 384.8 (6th)
Passing Yards: 321.0 (3rd)
Rushing Yards: 79.0 (6th)
Points For: 19.1 (9th)
Points Against: 36.9 (9th)
Net Offence: 268.0 (9th)
Yards Against: 440.9 (9th)
Passing Yards: 234.1 (9th)
Rushing Yards: 57.3 (9th)
Original article written by Tim Baines can be found here.