There’s nothing quite like opening night. The Ottawa REDBLACKS play their home opener tonight (June 17th), hosting the Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The evening has all the hoopla a football fan could want. Five-dollar pre-game beers, new ticket prices as low as $25, live party music before the game, free noise-making thunder sticks, a military flyover right before kickoff, and a 50/50 draw with a minimum jackpot of $100,000.
But most of all, it appears REDBLACKS fans will have a really good team to cheer for this season.
It’s been a while. After Ottawa won the 2018 CFL Eastern Final, this fan base has enjoyed a grand total of two home victories. That’s not a typo. Two. But as outlined in our REDBLACKS season preview, the club has made impressive changes everywhere and they were fully evident in Week One.
These same two clubs opened the season last Friday in Winnipeg, where Ottawa had the champs on their heels most of the night. In the end, the new-look REDBLACKS made one too many mistakes and the Bombers survived, kicking a last second field goal to win 19-17.
In his debut with the club, Jeremiah Masoli did exactly what the team hoped he would do when they signed him in the off-season, fully stabilizing the quarterback position. Masoli was super smooth, particularly when measured against Ottawa’s QB performances over the past two seasons. He completed 24 passes for 380 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, it was night and day. Last year, the REDBLACKS gave up a CFL-worst 384 points in 14 games. Last week, Ottawa’s revamped D was flying around, all over the ball, allowing just 289 yards of total offence against the champs – in their building, on their opening night.
What the club lacks right now is familiarity, cohesion and comfort – issues that are both natural and probably temporary. Ottawa made so many much-needed changes in the offseason, it’ll take a second or two to get everyone on the same page. They’re still refining the dance moves of a completely new playbook.
Individually, we may have seen some cases of overexcitement as well. After a long training camp, players are always amped up for the first game – even more so when they’re making their debut with a new team, wanting so much to impress. So, some key mistakes were made in Week one. For example, in one of the ugliest cases of clock management you’ll ever see, the REDBLACKS somehow let the clock run out at halftime when they were in field goal range. As the clock was ticking down, you could almost hear fans across Ottawa screaming at their TVs. Yes, those 3 points would have come in awfully handy in a 2-point loss.
Early in the 4th quarter, while leading 14-10, Ottawa turned the ball over on downs, somehow failing to convert on third and inches. That’s usually the easiest, most automatic play in the CFL, where the defence has to line up one yard off the ball. Winnipeg took advantage with a touchdown five minutes later. Ottawa even had a couple of dropped balls, both on offence and defence, that took easy points off the board.
But the good far outweighed the bad in Winnipeg, particularly for a team that’s been the CFL’s worst team for two years running.
The Blue Bombers have been at the other end of that spectrum, but they learned last week Ottawa is not to be taken lightly. Quarterback Zach Collaros and former Ottawa receiver Greg Ellingson are the players to watch on offence. On defence, Willie Jefferson and Adam Bighill will come in like a wrecking ball, as they always do.
Kick off at TD Place is 7:30pm. As of Thursday afternoon, fewer than 2,500 tickets remained for the game. Given the club’s off-season improvements, not to mention Ottawa’s penchant for being a walk-up town, a sell-out seems more than possible. Yes, things are looking up in Ottawa.
By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine