OTTAWA — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats can further assert themselves as the best team in the CFL’s East Division on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Ottawa REDBLACKS at TD Place in the nation’s capital.
The division rivals only square off twice in 2019, but it’s usually a good one when they meet. Four of the teams’ last five meetings have been decided by six points or less, including two comebacks from double-digit deficits for the REDBLACKS.
“We’ve established a pretty good little rivalry here,” Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer told Ticats.ca. “They got us pretty good last year. We love the atmosphere here and we expect it to be a battle. This is a fun place to play – the fans are always really into it.”
Hamilton fell to the REDBLACKS at TD Place in last season’s Eastern final. This will be the first regular season meeting between the teams since that 46-27 thumping. Both teams have undergone significant changes in the months since, especially at the quarterback position.
Dane Evans looked every bit a CFL starter in Week 9, guiding the Tiger-Cats to a thrilling comeback victory over the BC Lions. The first-year starter erased a 15-point deficit, the largest comeback for the Black and Gold since 2016.
“I’m still trying to get used to everything and just taking everything one day at a time,” Evans said. “[Jeremiah Masoli’s] the ultimate pro. I model how I prepare after what I saw him do. Even when I was a third-string guy, I was always sitting and watching and listening. I try to do that, but also put my own spin on some things.”
Meanwhile, Dominique Davis’s 11 interceptions are the most in the CFL. Davis has thrown a pick in five of his six games played.
One glaring difference between the REDBLACKS of 2018 and the REDBLACKS of 2019 is the usage of Brad Sinopoli. The reigning Most Outstanding Canadian simply isn’t seeing the ball as much – he has 47 targets for 31 receptions and 311 yards through eight games. At this same point in 2018, he had been targeted 76 times, accumulating 724 receiving yards.
Ottawa cut ties with starting receivers Noel Thomas and Julian Feoli-Gudino this week, giving other wideouts the opportunity to step up. Caleb Holley factors into the starting lineup, as does Canadian Nate Behar.
“We’re looking to take advantage when we can,” Behar told OttawaREDBLACKS.com. “They play a lot of soft coverage. They’re going to make us be patient and be efficient. When they finally get a little excited and try to bring some pressure, it’ll be time to take them deep.”
Brandon Banks turned in another vintage performance last week against the Lions. Not only did he haul in the game-winning touchdown, he put up 100 or more all-purpose yards for the 18th time in his last 26 starts.
The Tiger-Cats are still trying to cope with the loss of running back Sean Thomas-Erlington. The Canadian back went down in Week 4, and the ground game hasn’t been the same since in The Hammer. Cameron Marshall made his season debut last week, notching 40 yards on seven touches. If Hamilton can find a good run-pass balance that partially takes the load of the shoulders of Evans, the REDBLACKS could be in trouble.
As for the Ottawa rushing game, John Crockett has been a pleasant surprise. The 27-year-old has rushed for at least 62 yards in each of his first five games, averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry, but he will be watching from the sidelines due to injury on Saturday. Mossis Madu will get the start at tailback.
“He’s just banged up – part of playing football week in and week out,” REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell said when asked about Crockett. “We’ve got a fresh guy here who’s a good player, so we’re going to go with the fresh guy.”
RNation will be hoping Madu can recapture the magic that saw him light up the Calgary Stampeders to the tune of 112 rushing yards in Week 1, earning Top Performer of the Week consideration in the process. However, Madu hasn’t played in over a month – his last game was in Week 5 when he ran for 47 yards against Montreal.
Ottawa will also be without star return specialist DeVonte Dedmon, who finds himself on the injured list this week. Stefan Logan was brought in to fill the void. At 38-years-old, he is among the oldest active players in the league.
BY THE NUMBERS
9 – Consecutive field goals without a miss for Lirim Hajrullahu.
46 – Points off turnovers for REDBLACKS opponents in the last seven games.
15.6 – Average punt return for the Ticats Frankie Williams, the highest in the CFL.
– With files from Ticats.ca/OttawaREDBLACKS.com
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