CFL: Ottawa REDBLACKS stun Calgary Stampeders in season opener

CALGARY — It was better late than never for the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Saturday night in Calgary.

In a rematch of the 106th Grey Cup Championship, quarterback Dominique Davis scored his third rushing touchdown with just 1:22 remaining, giving the REDBLACKS their first lead of the game and a 32-28 come-from-behind victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

The last-minute touchdown capped off an up-and-down evening for Davis, but the first-time starting quarterback persevered despite throwing four interceptions — including three to Stampeders sophomore corner Tre Roberson — to lead Ottawa to a season-opening win.

Mossis Madu had a game-high 112 rushing yards on 24 carries to lead the REDBLACKS, while RJ Harris chipped in with 82 receiving yards on six catches. Brad Sinopoli added seven catches for 75 yards. Lewis Ward made all three field goal attempts, including his 50th in a row dating back to 2018.

Stamps pivot Bo Levi Mitchell, coming off his second career Most Outstanding Player honour in 2018, completed 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but the Stamps’ offence sputtered in the second half, managing only seven points.

Juwan Brescacin caught a 50-yard touchdown pass for Calgary, while defensively, in addition to Roberson’s big game, veteran linebacker Cory Greenwood had a game-high nine tackles.

MOSSIS MADU TAKES ON STAMPS LINEBACKER CORY GREENWOOD DURING THE FIRST HALF IN CALGARY (LARRY MACDOUGAL/CFL.CA)

Davis’ first drive as the REDBLACKS’ starting quarterback didn’t quite go as planned. On his first pass of the game, on second-and-six, Davis’ throw was jumped and intercepted by Roberson.

Gifted great field position at the Ottawa five-yard-line, the Calgary offence cashed in on the early turnover with a one-yard run by Don Jackson, taking an early 7-0 lead.

His team in an early hole, Davis bounced back confidently. A 14-yard pickup by Harris moved the chains on second down, while Caleb Holley and J.C. Beaulieu also got involved, leading the offence on a 13-play, 86-yard jaunt culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Davis. Davis completed six of seven passes following the early turnover, though he couldn’t convert the two-point attempt.

After a 42-yard field goal by the consistent Rene Paredes, Roberson hauled in his second interception of the game when Davis’ pass was deflected off the hands of the receiver. Two plays later, Brescacin beat Corey Tindal on a skinny post and Mitchell made no mistake, finding the national pass-catcher for a 50-yard touchdown.

A successful two-point conversion by Reggie Begelton gave the Stamps an 18-6 lead after an eventful first 15 minutes. Early in the second, they’d add to their lead with a 17-yard chip shot field goal from Paredes, his second of the game.

But the REDBLACKS, down two scores in their season-opener, responded in workmanlike fashion. Three rushing first downs by Madu and another by Davis aided a 13-play, 74-yard drive, culminating on Davis’ second touchdown of the game. Harris’ two-point convert made it an eight-point play, cutting Ottawa’s deficit to just seven points ahead of the three-minute warning.

The Stampeders’ first turnover of the game, a fumble by Begelton on second down, led to a 44-yard field goal by Ward, making it 21-17 Calgary heading into the half.

As the field continued to tilt in the REDBLACKS’ favour in the third, one play was all it took for the momentum to completely reverse. Davis’ pass to Harris was off target, and the resulting deflection was picked off by Brandon Smith, who returned it 59 yards for the defensive touchdown. Davis’ third interception of the game put Ottawa in a 10-point hole with eight minutes remaining in the third.

Despite the offensive miscues, the visitors refused to go away. Ward’s second field goal of the game — and 50th consecutive dating back to 2018 — pulled the REDBLACKS to within seven, while a punt single from Richie Leone made it a six-point game early in the fourth.

The Stamps picked off Davis for a fourth time, when Roberson came down with a jump ball for his third interception of the game. But Calgary’s offence remained ice cold in the second half, as a 2-for-7 stretch for Mitchell forced the Stampeders to punt.

Still trailing by six, a special teams play gave Ottawa a golden opportunity to surge ahead midway through the fourth, when Lorenzo Jerome — replacing an injured Terry Williams — fumbled a punt. Linebacker De’Andre Montgomery recovered at the Calgary 19. But the REDBLACKS would have to settle for another Ward field goal, making it a 28-25 Calgary lead with six minutes to go in the game.

The defensive clinic continued all through the second half, but the battle for field position gave Ottawa a chance at a late lead. On a drive that started at the Calgary 47 following a 15-yard penalty for no yards, Davis connected with Sinopoli for 24 yards, then on second-and-goal from the five took matters into his own hands, scrambling and then diving for the go-ahead touchdown — the REDBLACKS’ first lead of the game with 1:22 remaining.

Mitchell and the Stamps’ last-gasp effort was intercepted by REDBLACKS corner Jonathan Rose in the end zone, sealing a season-opening win for Rick Campbell’s squad.

In the end, Ottawa piled up 100 more net yards than the Stamps, holding Mitchell and company to just 299 yards. The REDBLACKS also controlled the clock throughout much of the evening, possessing the ball for 33:04.

After scoring an early touchdown, Stamps running back Jackson was held to just 22 rushing yards on nine carries, though he did chip in with five catches for 43 yards.

The Stamps get an early bye in Week 2, while the REDBLACKS head home to the nation’s capital for a date with the Saskatchewan Roughriders on June 20.

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