The Ottawa Redblacks handed the city of Ottawa its first professional football championship in 40 years by beating the heavily favored Calgary Stampeders 39-33 in an overtime thriller for the ages Sunday at Toronto’s BMO Stadium in front of a capacity crowd of 33,421 in Canada’s 104th Grey Cup.
The last time an Ottawa franchise won a Grey Cup was in 1976, when the Ottawa Rough Riders defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Toronto’s CNE Stadium.
Ernest Jackson juggled and ultimately caught a 19 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Henry Burris in the first possession of overtime to secure the win. Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell threw three straight incompletions in the next possession to give Ottawa the historic win.
The Redblacks had taken a 20-7 halftime lead and extended it to 27-7 early in the third quarter but then had to overcome a furious Stampeder second half comeback which included scoring 10 points in the final two minutes of regulation. Calgary tied the contest with 10 seconds remaining on a Rene Paredes field goal to force overtime.
The 41-year-old Burris who earned Grey Cup Most Valuable Player honors threw three touchdown passes while running for two more, becoming the oldest quarterback ever to win a Grey Cup. The 17-year veteran threw for 461 yards, the fourth-most ever in a Grey Cup game, earning his second title as a starting CFL quarterback and his first since 2008.
Patrick Lavoie and Sinopoli caught touchdown passes for the Redblacks while defensive back Forrest Hightower intercepted two passes in the winning effort. Running back Kienan LaFrance, who had rushed for 157 yards in the Conference final win over Edmonton, was quiet gaining a total of 42 yards on 11 carries.
Burris had been questionable to play after reportedly suffering a knee injury in the warm-up but in the end became the first quarterback since Danny McManus in 1996 to break 400 passing yards in a Grey Cup.
Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 391 yards and two touchdowns but was picked off three times. Running back Jerome Messam, the league’s leading rusher, was held to 35 yards rushing on only eight carries but did add 59 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air. Calgary’s top receiver, Marquay McDaniel, left the game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter after a 51 yard catch. His absence was telling.
With Burris playing potentially the final game of his career, the intrigue surrounding the CFL’s third all-time leading passer reached new heights when he was seen limping off the field following warm-ups. Initial reports indicated the Redblacks’ starting pivot had injured his knee and was questionable to play.
But after backup quarterback Trevor Harris came out of the tunnel for player intros and then stood in on the coin flip, Burris was under center when Ottawa’s offense first took the field in the opening quarter. Minutes later, Burris capped off a 10-play scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak.
The Redblacks scored the Grey Cup’s first points but the Mitchell and the Stampeders were quick to respond. The Katy, Texas native, fresh off winning the first Most Outstanding Player of the year honor of his career, connected with a wide open McDaniel over the middle for a 51-yard pickup into Ottawa territory.
Calgary’s second possession of the game ended with a seven-yard hookup between Mitchell and this year’s Most Outstanding Canadian Jerome Messam, tying the score at a touchdown apiece.
Ottawa rounded out the first-quarter scoring with a 37-yard field goal off the foot of Ray Early to take a 10-7 lead.
Down three points, the Stampeders appeared to be picking up momentum after sacking Burris for a six-yard loss and forcing Ottawa’s first punt of the game. But on the ensuing punt, Roy Finch fumbled the return and Serderius Bryant recovered for the Redblacks, flipping both possession and field position.
Burris and the Redblacks wasted no time finding the end zone after that as Lavoie caught all three of Burris’s completions on the drive, including a six-yard touchdown off of play action to extend the lead to 17-7.
After ending the second quarter on Early’s second field goal of the game, a chip shot from 29 yards out, the Redblacks tilted the field further in their favor in the third. Burris had just overshot an open Khalil Paden on an attempted flea-flicker on first down, but he wouldn’t miss again, completing passes to Sinopoli and Jackson before going back to Sinopoli for a nine-yard touchdown.
At that point, Ottawa had a commanding 27-7 lead — but, they discovered that falling asleep on the league-leading Stamps would be a mistake.
A third-quarter touchdown seemed to kick Calgary into gear, starting with a Peredes field goal and followed by a 33-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Lemar Durant and all of a sudden Calgary had cut the deficit to 27-17.
Down 10 with the fourth quarter just under way, Calgary mounted a seven play 66 yard drive which included having an offensive pass interference overturned on the goal line. Backup quarterback Andrew Buckley capped the drive with a one yard plunge and suddenly it was a 27-23 ball game with plenty of time left.
The teams exchanged punts and just when the Redblacks needed a response, Burris and company came through. A 22-yard catch and run by Juron Criner moved the sticks on second-and-long, then on second-and-five Burris went for the deep ball and it was Criner again making a highlight-reel grab — this one over the head of Calgary defensive back Matt Bucknor.
That led to Burris’ second rushing touchdown of the game, again from a yard out, capping off a six-play, 70-yard drive to put Ottawa back in the driver’s seat, leading 33-23.
Calgary pulled within a score as a first down run by Messam set up a 35-yard highlight-reel grab by the rookie Daniels down to the Ottawa 27. The drive ended with a 19-yard rushing touchdown by Daniels, pulling the Stamps within a field goal with a minute and a half remaining.
Calgary quickly got the ball back when Rob Maver’s onside kick was recovered by Love, and Mitchell completed four straight passes to bring Calgary to Ottawa’s 21 yard line. Then Ottawa was called for a pass interference on the 13 yard line to set up Paredes’ game tying field goal.
The win for Ottawa ends a remarkable turnaround in Canada’s capital, where the expansion Redblacks went from 2-16 in their first season in 2014 to appearing in back-to-back Grey Cups and, now, winning one.