LIVESTREAM PPV: CFL – Ottawa REDBLACKS @Toronto Argonauts, August 2, 7p EST (1a Aug. 3 CEST)

TORONTO — The Ottawa REDBLACKS and Toronto Argonauts have had very different starts to the 2018 CFL season.

The Argonauts — defending Grey Cup Champions — have stumbled to a 1-5 record out of the gate, and are now handing the reins to their third starting quarterback of the season; the REDBLACKS, meanwhile, have sprinted to a 4-2 start and sit four points clear of the rest of the pack in the East Division.

Thursday Night Football’s Battle of Ontario pits the two clubs against each other at BMO Field this week, and the storylines are plentiful; the REDBLACKS could take a three-game lead (read: stranglehold) atop the East with a win, while journeyman quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson will make his first CFL start for the Argos.

The REDBLACKS defence looked dominant against Hamilton in last week’s 21-15 win, but will be without one of its key leaders in linebacker Kyries Hebert.

The 37-year-old veteran was placed on the team’s six-game injured list in the lead-up to Thursday’s contest in Toronto, opening up a spot in the heart of the defence for Avery Williams.

“We have multiple options here,” Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell told OttawaREDBLACKS.com. “Avery Williams has played, 32 (Quentin Gause) is a new guy. (Anthony) Cioffi plays linebacker too, so we’re covered over there. Kyries is a good leader and intense player, and you can tell the game means the world to him. He’s been a great addition for us on the field.”

As for the challenge of facing an unknown in new Argos starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Campbell believes Toronto won’t venture far from its usual offensive gameplan.

“I would guess their offence with Coach Trestman is they’re not going to radically change the scheme or anything,” explained Campbell. “He’ll be drop-back quarterback guy, so it’s not going to create any wildly different challenges that way…he’s a 30-year-old guy, he’s been around football a while, (and) some guys know him and stuff. It’s different in that he hasn’t taken many snaps.”

Ottawa’s offence, meanwhile, will be hoping to convert on more drives than it did in Hamilton, where rookie kicker Lewis Ward had to boot seven field goals to propel the team to victory.

“We don’t want Lewis to kick seven field goals, we don’t him to even kick three,” chuckled quarterback Trevor Harris. “It’s vital for us, to be an elite offence we’ve got to be able to finish drives and score touchdowns. We have to make sure we have a killer instinct, (and) we can’t just be satisfied because we won — we have to make sure we’re punching the ball into the end zone.”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom from Harris, who threw for 228 yards in the win over the Ticats.

“It was a grind-out win, we responded in the fourth quarter when we were asked to,” continued Harris. “We also had seven scoring drives and didn’t turn the ball over. That’s the mark of a good team.”

Defensive lineman Avery Ellis also hits the six-game injured list this week, opening up an opportunity for rookie Danny Mason; the 27 year-old out of Texas A&M-Commerce will line up alongside George Uko on the left side of Ottawa’s D-line.

Desperate times call for desperate measures in Toronto, and the Argonauts have moved on — at least temporarily — from quarterback James Franklin.

The 27-year-old pivot threw five interceptions against zero touchdowns in his last three starts, and Head Coach Marc Trestman and his staff have made the call to hand the ball to 30-year-old McLeod Bethel-Thompson in his place.

“We’ve had a month to assess James,” head coach Marc Trestman told Argonauts.ca. “We feel very good about his future, we really do, but we said it was going to be a competition and I also wanted to give McLeod a chance.”

Thursday’s start will be Bethel-Thompson’s first regular-season one since 2011, when he was a member of the now-defunct Sacramento Mountain Lions.

“What you don’t see is the tireless preparation,” said Trestman of his third starting quarterback of the season. “He’s the first man in every day, he’s the last man off the field every day in practice. He’s committed to the game and committed to this football team.”

Argos running back James Wilder Jr. lauded Bethel-Thompson’s sheer arm strength.

“He has a cannon,” said Wilder. “He throws bullets, he’s very accurate, he’s mobile as well…he maybe adds a different element to the game. It could help with our offence. With the change it’s not just one person, it’s not just James why we have these ails. It’s all of us together and every last person on the offence will say that, but with this change we’re going to rally around him and see what he can do.”

Toronto will make just one change to the roster that fell 40-14 in Winnipeg last week, as kicker Zack Medeiros slots in for the injured Ronnie Pfeffer.

Medeiros last played for Ottawa, where he was exclusively a punter, in 2016; Pfeffer was just 3-for-6, including misses from 27 and 34 yards, in his last two contests prior to suffering an injury against the Bombers in Week 7.

Crunchin’ Numbers:

3 – Game gap between the REDBLACKS (4-2) and the Argonauts (1-5), the largest split entering a meeting between the two teams since Ottawa returned to the league in 2014.

5 – Straight CFL quarterbacks — Chris StrevelerAndrew BuckleyMatthew ShiltzRyan Lindley and Brock Jensen — who have lost their debut in the league. Will McLeod Bethel-Thompson become the sixth, or will the streak end at BMO on Thursday?

17 – Consecutive field goals made by rookie Ottawa kicker Lewis Ward, who currently holds the record for best field-goal percentage as a rookie (95.2 per cent) and sits third all-time in consecutive field goals made by a rookie (holder: Luca Congi, 21, 2006).

33 – Games in a row with a reception for Ottawa receiver Greg Ellingson; however, the veteran REDBLACK has only caught 10 passes for 97 yards and been kept out of the end zone over his last three games.

This one is going to be a doozy.

The visiting REDBLACKS have the chance to take a serious hold of first place in the East Division, and they’ll view Thursday night’s game as a very winnable one against a 1-5 Argos team handing the ball to a journeyman making his first start.

Toronto, meanwhile, needs a win badly — as much for morale as for standings purposes in the underachieving East Division.

Two teams trending in different directions: Who will come out on top at BMO Field?

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2018 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM PPV: CFL – Ottawa REDBLACKS @Toronto Argonauts, August 2, 7p EST (1a Aug. 3 CEST)

– With files from OttawaREDBLACKS.com/Argonauts.ca.

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