The Ottawa Redblacks’ offense did not click very well, however, placekicker Lewis Ward and the entire defense, specifically cornerback Abdul Kanneh – who recorded two interceptions and an incredible pick-six – propelled the Redblacks to a win to start the year.
A game that many anticipated to be an offensive showdown between two talented QBs ended up being a close, back-and-forth defensive showdown.
The Elks started with a long meticulous opening drive that resulted in a 12-yard chip shot field goal to take a 3-0 lead just over five minutes into the game.
The Redblacks evened the score with a 52-yard field goal from Ward after using their run game to move down the field. The first quarter ended with several two and outs from both teams and the teams tied 3-3.
The first half was more or less the same, with both defenses getting constant pressure on the opposing quarterback. The first half ended 9-6 in favour of the Elks with both teams exchanging field goals. The Elks scored a last-second field goal to take the lead at halftime.
The Elks’ offense moved well in between the 20-yard lines, but could not score any touchdowns.
The Redblacks offense could not get anything going all game long. Matt Nichols threw for only 71 yards, completing 12/20 passes. His shoulder was likely not 100 percent healthy, after being listed as questionable for the game two days earlier.
A play that swung momentum for both teams happened in the second quarter.
After a crucial stop for the Redblacks on defense, Devonte Dedmon received a punt. He lateraled it to Ryan Davis, who after receiving a block, ran it all the way back for a touchdown.
After a lengthy video review, the call on the field was overturned and the lateral was ruled a forward pass. It was a close call, but the right one.
This play would have put the Redblacks up 10-3, but instead, the game stayed 3-3.
Trevor Harris threw for 333 yards and completed 75 percent of his passes but his three interceptions were the difference in this game.
Midway through the fourth quarter with the Redblacks down 12-9, Harris threw a pass that if it was caught, would have put the Elks into the red zone with a chance to seal the game.
The pass bobbled off his receiver’s hands and into the hands of Abdul Kanneh who took it 102 yards for a game-changing pick-six.
It resulted in the only touchdown in the entire game and the winning score for the Redblacks.
With the Redblacks leading the game 16-12, the Elks were driving down the field with less than one minute to go in the game. With seven seconds left, at the Redblacks’ 17-yard line Trevor Harris had one more chance to win the game. He completed a pass to fullback James Tuck who ran all the way to the one-yard line before being tackled by – you guessed it – Abdul Kanneh.
Kanneh finished the game with two huge interceptions. Defensive back Randall Evans also recorded one interception.
The Redblacks defense was phenomenal. They not only created turnovers – they recorded three interceptions – but they also wreaked havoc on the opposing QB, registering three sacks, two things they did not do a lot of in 2019. That is a good sign for a young, improving team.
Ward was automatic all night long, finishing a perfect 3-3 on field goals. He hit two field goals over 50 yards.
It was not the best game for Paul LaPolice and his crew, but defense does win championships. If defensive coordinator Mike Benevides’ unit can play like this all year long, the Redblacks could contend not only for the playoffs but even for the Grey Cup.
However, their offense cannot be this stagnant all season long. Nichols’ shoulder needs to fully recover so he can be more efficient, accurate and so he can move the ball downfield more. Also, the run game needs to be effective enough to make the opposing secondaries play closer to the line of scrimmage to open the game up downfield for Nichols. The Redblacks have weapons at receiver, they need to use them more often.
With their bye week underway, they will have some time to address the offense to make it be more effective while preparing for their next game, a tough road game against the West Division leading Saskatchewan Roughriders.