It would normally feel a little early to be billing a CFL game in July a “must win” situation. But when you have two teams hitting the one-third point in their seasons with a combined record of 1-9, it’s not a totally unreasonable description.
The Montreal Alouettes (1-4) are in Ottawa Thursday night to take on the Redblacks (0-5), and both clubs are absolutely desperate for victories. Montreal has already fired their head coach, Khari Jones. GM Danny Maciocia simply felt like he had a better coaching option in Danny Maciocia. The Als responded by blowing a big lead and losing by a point to Edmonton last week.
The Redblacks have been competitive in most of their games but – like the old adage says – you are what your record says you are. They’re off to an 0-5 start, with just one win in their last 17 home games. Ottawa has a new general manager in Shawn Burke and new general managers frequently want to hire their own head coaches. Until they get back in the win column, Paul LaPolice’s head coaching hotseat will keep getting warmer. LaPolice is 3-16 since taking over as Ottawa’s head coach.
The game marks the return of former REDBLACKS quarterback Trevor Harris, who’ll start for the Alouettes. The Als turned to him four weeks ago after he’d started the year as a backup to Vernon Adams Jr. At 36, Harris certainly isn’t the player he was when he led Ottawa to its last Grey Cup appearance in 2018, a 27-16 loss to Calgary. He had a big 2019 season in Edmonton, finishing 2nd in the nation with 4027 passing yards. But he’s scuffled since being traded to Montreal last October. The inertia of the canceled 2020 CFL season probably didn’t agree with very many ball players of Harris’ vintage.
Meanwhile, since that 2018 Grey Cup loss four years ago, the Redblacks have won just 6 football games.
Ottawa fans may get their first look at quarterback Nick Arbuckle. He was acquired from Edmonton almost immediately after starter Jeremiah Masoli was injured on a dirty tackle in Saskatchewan earlier this month. In 2019, as Bo Levi Mitchell’s understudy in Calgary, Arbuckle was once a hot commodity in the league. Since then, Arbuckle has played in Toronto and Edmonton and hasn’t fared well, throwing twice as many picks as touchdown passes.
Ottawa picked Arbuckle up from the Elks for a 4th rounder after he completed 74 of 115 throws this season for 892 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions.
— CFL (@CFL) July 11, 2022
Arbuckle was here two years ago, ready to roll, until they canceled the 2020 CFL season. At the request of LaPolice, Ottawa shipped him out and signed Matt Nichols instead. Caleb Evans is listed as Thursday’s starter against the Larks, but Arbuckle is currently seen as the best option to keep the club’s head above water until Masoli gets back near the end of the season. If Evans can’t find some momentum early, Arbuckle will probably get some snaps by night’s end.
For the record, Evans made his first regular season start of the season last week against winless Hamilton and completed 18 of 30 passes for one touchdown with two interceptions. After the well-paid starters (Nichols, Masoli) have fallen to injury two years in a row, Evans has subbed in and shown flashes of ability but has yet to move the offence consistently enough to prove he can be someone’s number one.
Ottawa’s definitely a banged-up squad, including Abdul Kanneh and Justin Howell on the one game injured list. Masoli, Money Hunter, Ryan Davis, Justin Hardy, Frankie Griffin, Randy Richards and Praise Martin-Oguike are among the impact players listed on the six-game list.
Both teams should be in an ornery mood after disappointing losses last week. Montreal’s loss to Edmonton last week after leading by 19 points was their largest blown lead since 2013. Ottawa’s first victory fell inches short on a last second 54-yard field goal try in Hamilton.
Kickoff is 7pm at TD Place.
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