OTTAWA — On Friday night in the nation’s capital, the Ottawa REDBLACKS will have an opportunity to make the final week of the 2017 CFL regular season very interesting.
Trailing the first-place Toronto Argonauts — who are on a bye in Week 19 — by a single point, the REDBLACKS could take over possession of first with a win against the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats at TD Place (7 p.m. ET).
Ottawa has seen both sides of the Ticats’ proverbial coin in 2017; the REDBLACKS earned a 37-18 win at Tim Horton’s Field in August, but were felled 26-22 by the same Tabbies just a few weeks later.
The two will meet for the third and final time to decide the season series and possibly, if Hamilton wins, the East Division crown.
While the Hamilton Tiger-Cats know their season will come to an end next week, regardless of their result Friday night in the nation’s capital, there is still plenty to play for. Mid-season replacement head coach June Jones has helped the Tabbies completely shed their first-half image, posting a 5-3 mark since beginning the season 0-8.
The continued chance to put their ugly first half behind them remains motivation for the Ticats, and they will charge into the nation’s capital on a high following their one-sided win over the Alouettes (43-16) in Montreal last week.
There’s little doubt Hamilton is a much different team than the one which lost to the REDBLACKS back in Week 9, and even different than the one that defeated Ottawa in Week 12.
“Looking at the film against Ottawa, we’re not the same team,” Jones told Ticats.ca. “We’re better, so hopefully that’ll show up on the scoreboard.”
The Hamilton offence should be boosted this week by the return of productive receiver Jalen Saunders.
“Jalen looks like he’s full-speed running, which is good to see,” said Jones of the first-year receiver, who leads the Tabbies with 977 receiving yards. “He’s a very productive player in what we do, (and) understands how to read coverage — he had a good game up there last time we played them.”
While the Ticats’ offensive line has improved significantly in the second half, their head coach believes Ottawa presents a unique challenge.
“They do a lot of different things in their interior seven that cause some protection issues,” explained Jones. “We know they’ve had 15 days to think about it, (and) I know they’ll have new dogs or wrinkles. It’ll be something that we see on film, I’m sure.”
Ticat receiver Mike Jones will be looking to build on the momentum of his first career touchdown in Montreal last week — a situation that Jones, coach, believes could happen in Ottawa.
“Anytime you lose a productive player like (Brad Sinopoli), it’s certainly (difficult),” said the Tabbies’ boss. “They lost No. 4 (Jerrell Gavins), too, and he’s a real productive player. Someone else will get up there and play, and maybe like Mike Jones, step up and play better.”
In Ottawa, a much-needed bye week has the REDBLACKS refreshed and ready for a stretch run that they hope will culminate with a Grey Cup celebration on home turf come Nov. 26.
“The bye was big to get off our legs, (and) some people got to go home,” quarterback Trevor Harris told OttawaREDBLACKS.com. “We’re 7-9, if we don’t get the bye, fine, we don’t deserve the bye. It is what it is, but we’re going to take care of our business and let the chips fall where they may.”
Thus is the position Harris and co. find themselves in: A half-game back of the Toronto Argonauts, needing a win on Friday to have any chance at the division title.
“We can’t rely on other teams to do the work for us.”
REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell insists that the urgency which permeated his team’s camp prior to a Week 17 road win in Regina hasn’t dissipated during the bye week.
“It’s huge urgency,” said Campbell. “We win this game, we’re back in first place and (we) make Toronto have to win a game.”
The opportunity to finish first in the East seemed like a pipe dream after Ottawa’s 1-6-1 start, yet here they are: On the cusp of making it a very real possibility.
“First place is a huge thing in the CFL — one home game to get to the Grey Cup,” continued Campbell. “Somebody told me, I think 13 of our 17 games have come down to the last possession, which is crazy — the difference between winning and losing for us is making one key play at the end of the game.”
The REDBLACKS were dealt a pair of blows this week with the news that star receiver Brad Sinopoli and defensive starter Jerrell Gavins will both miss the remainder of the season. Nick Taylor will slide in at SAM linebacker for the latter.
By The Numbers
1 – Win against four losses on Trevor Harris’s career record against Hamilton.
4 – Consecutive games with 100-plus receiving yards for Ticat Brandon Banks, who has become a key part of the Hamilton offence since June Jones arrived in town.
5 – Wins in eight games for Jones since taking over from Kent Austin — he is the first replacement coach since 2002 with a .500 or better record (min. eight games).
13 – CFL-record number of “close games” — CFL-defined as games decided by seven or less points — contested by Ottawa this season. The REDBLACKS’ last three games have all been decided by five points or less.
57 – Defensive tackles for Ottawa’s Antoine Pruneau, who has reached the 50-tackle mark in all four of his CFL seasons.
There’s something about Fall that just makes football better.
The games mean more, with playoff positioning on the line, and the weather is more conducive to classic football fandom.
Rick Campbell’s REDBLACKS would be the natural favorites in Friday’s game on paper, but as we all know the term on paper doesn’t often apply in the CFL — especially come late October and November.
June Jones’s Ticats will be looking to continue their good form; their hosts will be looking to bounce back from the blow of losing two contributing starters.
Should be a fun one in the nation’s capital.
AFI, Yare Media and the CFL
American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2017 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.
If you can’t watch it live, each game is available for viewing through the remainder of the season.