Ottawa REDBLACKS erase 16 point deficit; down Hamilton Tiger-Cats in first place battle

OTTAWA — Dominique Davis scored three touchdowns in short yardage, helping the Ottawa REDBLACKS erase a 16-point deficit on the way to a 35-31 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night in Ottawa.

Davis scored his third touchdown of the game midway through the third, putting his team ahead for good to put Ottawa in sole possession of first place in the CFL East Division. The REDBLACKS also claim the season series, improving to 2-0 this year against their division rival.

Trevor Harris finished with 341 yards — including 211 yards in the second half — and added a touchdown on 24-of-32 passing. Meanwhile, Lewis Ward added two field goals, one of them being a 52-yarder, to set a new pro football record, passing NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri with his 45th consecutive successful field goal.

Jeremiah Masoli threw three first-half touchdown passes and finished with 309 passing yards on 19-of-29 passing, but was stymied in the second half as the Ticats were held only to a pair of Lirim Hajrullahu field goals.

Luke Tasker caught two of Masoli’s three majors, giving him five in the last two games and a share of the league lead with teammate Brandon Banks at 11 on the season.

The loss was a costly one for the Ticats, who were dealt injuries to top receiver Banks and shutdown corner Delvin Breaux.

The two teams square off again in Week 20 as the series shifts to Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field, where the REDBLACKS will try to clinch a division title and first-round bye.

After the Ticats won the coin toss but deferred, the REDBLACKS couldn’t do anything with the ball and the wind at their back, going two-and-out and having to punt on the game’s opening possession.

On the other side, even against the howling winds on a cold evening at TD Place, there was no slow start for the Ticats’ offence. Jonathan Rose couldn’t tackle Alex Green in the open field on a swing pass on second-and-seven, a play that became a 40-yard gain into Ottawa territory.

A couple of plays later, Masoli’s pass to Tasker hung up in the wind and, despite Ottawa being called for pass interference on the play, was eventually hauled in for a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Ticats a 7-0 lead on the road.

Surrounded by 23,534 mostly-silent fans, the REDBLACKS got a big play of their own — and erupted the TD Place crowd — when Harris threaded the needle to receiver RJ Harris, resulting in a 58-yard catch-and-run. The offence couldn’t fully cash in on the opportunity, as Harris’ second-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

Lewis Ward‘s 44th consecutive field goal, a chip shot from 22 yards out, moved him into a tie with NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri for professional football’s all-time record.

After weathering the early storm from the visitors, the REDBLACKS siezed all of the momentum midway through the first quarter when Masoli’s pass was intercepted by Sherrod Baltimore, marking the first turnover of the game.

And again, with the drive stalling, it was Ward on the field, this time connecting on a season-long 52-yard field goal, cutting Ottawa’s deficit to 7-6 and, more impressively, moving him past Vinatieri with his 45th consecutive field goal.

The interception did nothing to faze Masoli, however, because the Ticats’ quarterback quickly went back to work. A 17-yard run by Green moved the sticks and got the ball rolling, and from there it was the Brandon Banks show, the receiver nicknamed ‘Speedy’ catching three consecutive passes, including a 33-yard catch-and-run to extend Hamilton’s lead to 14-6.

Masoli’s third touchdown pass of the half — and second to Tasker — extended the Ticats’ lead to 22-6. The scoring drive continued a torrid start to the game for Masoli, who approached 200 passing yards in less than a half of work.

With the first half dwindling and the game in danger of falling out of reach, the REDBLACKS mounted a much-needed response. Harris completed four straight passes, eventually setting up a short yardage plunge from short-yardage quarterback Davis to get the offence back in the end zone. Powell ran in the two-point convert, capping off a nine-play scoring drive to pull Ottawa to within eight points.

However, even with less than a minute remaining there was more than enough time for Masoli and the Ticats’ offence. An explosive return by Frankie Williams and a personal foul against Anthony Cioffi set up a Lirim Hajrullahu field goal, restoring a double-digit lead for the Ticats, 25-14.

The REDBLACKS rebooted at the half and came out a different team for the third quarter. Going with the wind and starting with the ball, it started with a pass interference penalty by way of a Rick Campbell challenge, which revealed that RJ Harris had indeed been interfered with.

The drive-extending penalty set up another big gain for Brad Sinopoli, who eventually got his offence to the one-yard-line on his second catch of the drive. A couple of plays later, Davis was into the end zone on his second short-yardage touchdown of the night, while RJ Harris caught the two-point convert, making it a three-point game with 9:45 to go in the third.

Hajrullahu’s second field goal of the game extended the Ticats’ lead to six points, but it didn’t stymie Ottawa’s early second-half momentum. Harris continued his hot third quarter, completing four straight passes to four different receivers, including a stumbling touchdown grab by Diontae Spencer in the back of the end zone to give the REDBLACKS their first lead of the game, 29-28.

With the REDBLACKS ahead going to the fourth, a career-long 53-yard field goal by Hajrullahu put the Ticats back in the driver’s seat early in the final frame.

But it would be short-lived, thanks in part to a careless penalty by the Ticats’ special teams. With Richie Leone on to punt the ball away, Sean Thomas-Erlington took a roughing the kicker penalty, extending the drive for the offence. An illegal contact penalty and, soon after, a pass interference penalty set the REDBLACKS up at the one again, where Davis scored his third touchdown of the night on the one-yard plunge, giving Ottawa the lead.

Ward would miss the extra point, but moments later the ball fell back into the hands of the REDBLACKS. A scrambled kickoff and a loose ball was batted out of bounds by Nigel Romick, giving Ottawa possession at the Hamilton 33. The REDBLACKS couldn’t score, and instead of attempting a long field goal opted to pin the Ticats deep.

Noel Thorpe’s defence continued to hold, while William Powell helped melt away the clock, picking up the majority of his 87 rushing yards in the game’s final minutes.

The Ticats were given one last reprieve when Powell fumbled at the Hamilton five with under a minute to go, but there wasn’t enough time, clinching a nail-biting victory in the nation’s capital for the REDBLACKS.

Friday night marked Hamilton’s eighth straight contest with a lead of double-digit points, but a darker cloud will hang over the Ticats’ flight home as the team hopes for good news on injuries to Banks and Breaux, two players that have been critical to their success.

Either way, they’ll look to regroup in time for the rematch on Saturday, Oct. 27, as the two clubs meet for the third and final time this regular season.

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