The final score of a preseason game ultimately means nothing, but the Ottawa Redblacks will gain something from their 23-17 win over the Toronto Argonauts to kick off their 2022 preseason schedule.
A team that has just six wins since their Grey Cup appearance in 2018 is looking to build back the winning culture they established in the Henry Burris era, and with an offseason where they signed numerous big names, they have their best chance to do that yet.
Starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said in practice earlier in the week, that not only does the preseason offer a great opportunity to build chemistry for the new teammates, but it also offers a chance for the club to win some football games, and show themselves that they are capable of being contenders at the end of the season. The Redblacks found themselves down by 10 points in the fourth quarter, before they mounted a comeback, something Masoli believes will help them build that confidence, and that winning culture.
“It was huge, man, it was huge,” Masoli said. “We were all engaged on the sideline and it wasn’t like some guys were waiting for the game to be over. We were tuned in. Guys knew what the play call was, we were making sure guys were in there on the huddle, so it was good to see us doing it together.”
“It was a full team effort. Some punts, some special teams plays, and the defence getting us the ball back. We faced adversity. We went down, and we brought it back. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that. I think it’s a great starting point to build that winning culture.”
Masoli wasn’t the only one who was really happy with how the game unfolded. Running back Jackson Bennett echoed Masoli’s thoughts, adding that these kinds of games can help prepare a team for the pressure-packed moments that are sure to come later in the season.
“Having been able to go through that together in a preseason game builds a good foundation for what we are going to be doing later on,” Bennett said. “We’re here to win, and we’re here to win a Grey Cup. Starting off like this on the right foot is special, and it’s really good for the team morale.”
On the field, Masoli found some comfort with one of his favourite targets from Hamilton in Jaelon Acklin. In his final drive before being replaced by Caleb Evans, Masoli scrambled to the right and connected with Acklin, who made a wonderful toe-tapping catch at the sideline for the touchdown.
“I keep saying that Acklin is a special dude,” Masoli said. “He can do it all if you ask me. Especially in those jab sessions when we get scrambling, he’s pretty heady, and he knows where to go based on where the defence is. I’m always looking for him on those plays.”
The Redblacks also got a great performance from Bennett, who came into the game in its closing stages. On just seven rushes, the Canadian running back ran for 62 yards, including a 40-yard scamper on the final drive that got Ottawa into scoring range, effectively setting them up to win the game.
“Ottawa has been home for 15 years, so to have my family and friends here made it special to have the opportunity to do what I did,” Bennett said. “I’ve been doing this for a while now, so it’s kinda second nature, but there are some things that stick in your mind. Things like ball security, but the offensive line made the hole really big and allowed me to get through.”
“It doesn’t matter when you get your opportunity, Bennett put the ball in his hands and he made plays,” said Redblacks’ head coach Paul LaPolice. “Hats off to him, he played a great game.”
According to LaPolice, we will likely see a little bit less of the veteran players in Montreal for the Redblacks’ second preseason game next week. It’s likely going to be an opportunity for more of the young players to show their stuff, but the Redblacks and their coaching staff appear to be comfortable with where the team stands before their first regular-season game in Winnipeg in two week’s time.
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