The Ottawa Redblacks won’t have much of a chance to get settled into their season, kicking off the regular season schedule with a home and home against the two-time defending Grey Cup champion, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Blue Bombers have been the cream of the crop since Zach Collaros took over, and on paper, that looks like it will be true again in 2022.
Both of their Grey Cup wins came against Jeremiah Masoli’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In 2019, Masoli was injured and forced to the sidelines, and in 2021, Dane Evans was injured during the game, and Masoli was asked to come in and finish. A valiant effort from the former Oregon Duck was nearly enough to end the Hamilton drought, but they came up just short. In the offseason, the Tabbies decided to move forward with Evans, and Masoli picked Ottawa as his next home.
Now, in a new city and a new team, Masoli heads into back-to-back games against the foe that bested his side twice in the biggest game of the year. Despite that, there’s no added pressure felt by him or the team to beat the Bombers.
“It’s about us,” Masoli said. “It’s a great opportunity for us. The schedule is out of our control, so lining up against the defending Grey Cup champions twice, we couldn’t ask for a better schedule. It’s a great test for us, but like I said, it doesn’t really matter who we play, it’s about us executing what we are doing.”
On a personal level, Masoli isn’t feeling any pressure by playing the team that beat his Tiger-Cats last season, not even on the night where they raise their 2021 Grey Cup championship banner. His fuel to win comes from inside the locker room, and his own motivation to win each game, let alone a Grey Cup.
“It’s not personal at all,” Masoli said. “It’s about the Redblacks. Obviously, I want to win, but it’s for the team.”
But make no mistake, taking on the Blue Bombers is a big deal. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and there’s no question that right now, the Bombers are the best. It’s going to be two very difficult games to start the season for the Redblacks, but Masoli is stressing that there should be no panic. He believes that if the Redblacks stick to their game plan, they can not only compete with the Bombers, but come out on top.
“We can’t make it bigger than what it is,” Masoli said. “They are going to make their plays, and we know that, that’s fine. It’s football. We have to bounce back, we have to keep our composure, stay focused longer than them, and [if we do that], we should be able to come out on top.”
Masoli’s Tiger-Cats had plenty of experience playing the Bombers in the past two seasons, and while that does help in some regards, he says there have been plenty of changes to the team since. One of those changes was Paul LaPolice leaving his role as the offensive coordinator for the Bombers to come to Ottawa, as well as some former Bombers players coming to Ottawa. Still, there are things to take away from those high-leverage games, even with all the changes.
“It’s a new year, and they have new bodies too,” Masoli said. “They aren’t returning everybody, even though they do have a consistent core group back there. Experience can help you, seeing their defence and some general themes, but you still have to see it and execute it.”
If there’s one concern about the Redblacks from outsiders and pundits alike this season, it’s how quickly they can come together. It’s a new group, but Masoli has started to feel the group pull together. He won’t know exactly how things will shake down before the games start, but for now, it’s going well.
“We’re good, we’re operating good, there are some small details we need to iron out, but besides that, we’re executing pretty well against our defence right now,” Masoli said. “You know how that goes, we’ll see when the bullets start flying for real. That’s when it gets fun and we can start playing.”
“There are some nuances for some concepts and some routes. There’s a couple of things that will take time, but we’ve spent lots of time, and the basic stuff we have down.”
Subscribe to 13th Man Sports to get email notifications when we post!