Just days after a promising result against the Toronto Argonauts, the Ottawa Redblacks once again found a new low-point of their season, losing in dominant fashion to the Calgary Stampeders, who were missing many key pieces due to a COVID-19 outbreak, by a score of 17-3. The defence was good once again, the special teams were a high point, but the offence scored just three points, and squandered good field position a handful of times.
For fans, the only part of the game worth celebrating was the return of many Ottawa CFL legends, including the 2016 Grey Cup winning team, and the alternate helmets debuted by the team. But good memories and helmets, albeit slick, couldn’t save the Redblacks from their seventh loss of the season, dropping them to 1-7, well back of a potential playoff spot in the underwhelming East Division.
“We didn’t execute,” said Redblacks’ head coach Paul LaPolice. “Their defence played better than us, and we made critical mistakes when our team was fighting to be in it. There was a pick-six where our receiver stopped running, there were too many turnovers in scoring position, and we have to be better.”
“There’s disappointment and anger,” said Redblacks’ quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who came on in relief in the second half. “We all know the kind of team we have, and the kind of players we have in that locker room, and we have worked too hard and have too many good players to be at the record that we are at. At the same time, we still have hope and confidence in the guys in that room to turn this around. Seven losses aren’t going to keep us out of the playoffs. The Redblacks won the Grey Cup in 2016 with more losses than we have right now.”
Caleb Evans started the game for the Redblacks, as he has ever since Jeremiah Masoli was injured during Ottawa’s week five game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He completed just 10 of his 21 passes for 66 yards, and threw a critical interception late in the first half before he was pulled for Arbuckle in the third quarter. Fans booed, making their intentions clear, they wanted Arbuckle, but LaPolice wasn’t budging for some time, leaving Evans the chance to sort things out for himself.
“That’s my call,” LaPolice said. “I want to give him the opportunities. He has been very successful for two straight games, and some of those issues weren’t his alone. You certainly don’t [want to] pull quarterbacks early, that’s my experience of 20 years.”
“I did consider it at the half, but we said let’s start the third quarter with him. In the last couple of games, he has done a good job coming out of the half, and he has been able to move the ball downfield and put us in scoring position, which he has done the past two games.”
While Arbuckle did warm up on the sidelines a couple of times before coming into the game, he says he was never rooting for Evans to fail, but kept himself ready in case LaPolice did turn to him at some point in the contest.
“I never try to anticipate that or hope for that,” Arbuckle said. “You never really know what’s going through a coach’s mind when it comes to personnel, every coach is different on how much of a leash they are going to give to quarterbacks.”
“Caleb [Evans] has done an amazing job the past couple of games, ever since I have been here,” he continued. “I see a good guy, a good leader, a hard worker, and he has made a lot of plays over the past couple of weeks, so I had no idea what we were going to do.”
On the stat sheet, the game was close. Ottawa led the way in offensive yards with 319, and trailed by roughly six minutes in time of possession, but the difference in the game was the Redblacks’ five turnovers against Calgary’s one.
“I think it’s disappointing when it’s a close game and you just couldn’t get a rhythm going offensively,” LaPolice said. “You’re in a tight game for all four quarters, and you don’t do a good job manufacturing. You’re not going to win turning the ball over as many times as we did tonight, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
The defence was good, and the special teams were good, allowing you to make the argument that Ottawa won two of the three phases of the game, and LaPolice says that doing so should be enough to win football games, but not when you make mistakes at key moments.
“You can do that, but you can’t have that many turnovers,” said LaPolice. “Seven of their points came from an interception for a touchdown, and those are critical mistakes. You can win games winning two out of three phases, you don’t have to win all three, but you can’t make critical mistakes, and that’s what we did tonight.”
There are still 10 more games to go for the Redblacks, and they haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention mathematically yet, but the wins need to start coming before that is talked about. Inside the room, however, there is still a belief that things can and will be turned around.
“It isn’t over for us, but at the same time, there needs to be a sense of urgency, and there is,” Arbuckle said. “We can’t keep going the way we are going, and I think this bye week is going to come at a good time for us to reset, and come back and be a different team.”
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