HAMILTON — It’s come down to this. Win … or else.
A loss against the Tiger-Cats Saturday would officially eliminate the Ottawa Redblacks from the playoffs since they would lose the tiebreaker to both Hamilton and Montreal. It shouldn’t be this way, this early — not with four games left in the regular season. But here we are. Again.
Through it all, though a season of too many scoreboard disappointments, Antoine Pruneau has kept hope. The veteran safety, an original Redblack who was drafted in 2014, has seen the highs and lows. He has been in three Grey Cups, winning one. He also has been part of two teams that flat out weren’t very good. The 2014 expansion team won just twice. The 2019 team won just three times … and that was after starting the season 2-0. Yep, it was a stinker of a season. And this year? Thank the schedule-maker for two dates with the Edmonton Elks, who the Redblacks have feasted on for their only two victories.
So now part of a team that’s started 2021 with a 2-8 record — 1-8 in its past nine games — Pruneau says it feels somehow different. The team hasn’t given up. Pruneau believes the team has something in its tank — maybe there is some spark for a team that far too often has fired blanks on offence.
“I don’t think we’re in the same position we were in the last time we had a similar situation,” said Pruneau. “I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, it just feels a bit different. At the end of the day, it still has the same effect, it still hurts. The toughest part of our sport is all those mental battles we have to fight. There are things happening to us as a group, things that are happening in our lives. You have to fight with that daily. The great ones are able to come out of it stronger and that’s what I’m striving for.”
The Redblacks are coming out of a three-game-in-11-day stretch (they lost all three games). And now, things get a bit closer to normal from a schedule perspective. After facing the Tiger-Cats, the Redblacks host Calgary Oct. 29, then Toronto Nov. 6. Beating the Tiger-Cats, who occupy third place in the East with a 4-5 record, would at least be a start. If they hope to have any success, the Redblacks need to establish an offensive identity. It’s hard to win football games when your offence produces so little — Ottawa has no offensive touchdowns in five of its 10 games.
“The details matter and when you do what we’ve done, you’re going to lose football games, no matter (who you’re playing),” said Redblacks head coach/offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice. “We have to do the things winning teams do, we haven’t the past couple of weeks — takeaways, giveaways and all that stuff.
“I’ve been in the business 20 years — on different teams. it’s more about us and what we can do, make sure we’re ready to go and play our game and if we do things correctly, we can win the football game. I look at what we can do, not what we can’t do.”
It’s expected quarterback Devlin (Duck) Hodges will make his CFL and Redblacks debut vs. the Tiger-Cats.
He’ll wear No. 7; the irony being it’s the number worn by Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. Hodges replaced an injured Roethlisberger in 2019 and started six games with the Steelers.
Asked about wearing No. 7, Hodges said: “My boy Ben … you know, I texted him when I came up here and I said, ‘Hey, I’m wearing No. 7.’ I think Ben told me, ‘Well, it probably looks better on you than than on me.’ I mean, he’s Ben, he’s a future Hall of Famer. I won’t tell him this, but I probably didn’t have many choices (with the choice of number). It was either 7 or 7.
“I wore 6 in Pittsburgh, I was No. 8 in college. I was No. 9 growing up and in high school I was No. 10. The 7 kind of fits the 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. I was 19 for a bit of time with the Rams and I’ll be honest, I don’t like 19 … I hate 19. I’m glad I didn’t get 19 here.”
THE VAX FACTS
When the Redblacks play their next home game, fans will be asked to show their vaccine QR codes. But that won’t necessarily make it easier for the stadium folks to ensure everybody going into the stadium is full vaccinated. So far, the process of getting fans into the stadium has worked. “The biggest challenges are just around manpower and having enough people to do what amounts to another layer of checking before you get to security, before you get to the ticket scanners,” said Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group president and CEO Mark Goudie. “What we’ve been doing is using volunteers — that’s our front-office staff, their families, their friends, some alumni employees and other volunteers — to do that. And it’s worked out well. In some ways, it’s been actually kind of cool because we have our office staff out greeting people as they’re coming to games and able to call them by their first name as they check their IDs.”
THE END AROUND
The Redblacks struggled keeping defenders off their quarterback last week against Montreal, giving up 10 sacks. Now, centre Mark Korte is out, put on the one-game injured list. He’ll be replaced by Andrew Pickett. It’s an all-rookie offensive line, with Tyler Catalina returning from the injured list to play right tackle, with Chris Ferguson going back to the injured list … Terry Williams will get his first game as a Redblack; he’s listed as the team’s primary punt/kickoff returner … Also in the lineup this week are DB Treshaun Abrahams-Webster, LB Dan Basambombo and OL Ketel Asse. LB Avery Williams also returns … The Tiger-Cats have a couple of game-time decisions: C Darius Ciraco and RB Sean Thomas-Erlington … WR Brandon (Speedy) Banks returns for Hamilton.