A must-win game for two talented East Division teams who have yet to taste victory this season was exciting from start to finish and delivered multiple explosive plays, several lead changes, a handful of turnovers, a game-winning drive, and even came down to a last-second field goal.
Unfortunately, a 54-yard game-winning field goal from Lewis Ward fell less than one yard short and the Tiger-Cats got their first win after a near-flawless game-winning drive to come back from a five-point deficit with just over one minute remaining.
The Redblacks fall to 0-5 despite a solid performance from QB Caleb Evans, who got his first start of the year after the injury to Jeremiah Masoli, and a great performance from their defense, which caused multiple turnovers despite being without four key starters Frankie Griffin, Monshadrik Hunter, Patrick Levels, and Abdul Kanneh who have all made huge impacts for a young Redblacks’ team this season.
The Redblacks needed to get the ground game going to help Caleb Evans get going. Several physical runs from William Powell, that involved several jukes and broken tackles, allowed the Redblacks’ passing game to get going. A beautiful 23-yard catch from wide receiver Jaelon Acklin and a 26-yard QB draw from Evans after excellent lead blocking by running back William Powell set up a nine-yard TD pass from Evans to former TiCat Acklin on their first possession of the game to take a 7-0 lead. The Redblacks moved the ball quickly and efficiently, they traveled 66 yards on 6 plays in 3:06 to take an early lead.
After the Redblacks stuffed the Tiger Cats’ run game on first down, they gave up a huge 61-yard completion play to inside their own 20, but after making the catch, Anthony Johnson coughed up the ball after a big hit and the Redblacks got the ball back at their own 14-yard line after Randall Evans recovered the fumble.
The Redblacks couldn’t do anything on offense after the takeaway and were forced to punt. After a booming punt from Richie Leone, arguably the best punter in the CFL, the Redblacks forced another fumble on the ensuing punt return and Ottawa started their next offensive possession in Hamilton territory at the Tiger Cats’ 34.
Two turnovers on consecutive defensive drives is impressive for a young, shorthanded defense. A sack by the Tiger-Cats pushed the Redblacks back to the Hamilton 42. Lewis Ward missed a 49-yard field goal attempt and the Tiger-Cats avoided giving up any points off of their turnover.
Despite the missed field goal, the Redblacks’ defense remained stout and Avery Williams recorded a huge sack to force another Tiger Cats’ punt after the Redblacks’ defensive line generated immense pressure on Dane Evans.
A few drives later, on the very first play, the pressure generated by the Tiger Cats’ defensive line was enough to cause a turnover of their own. Dylan Wynn tipped up a ball thrown by Evans at the line of scrimmage and it fell right into the arms of his teammate Kameron Kelly for an interception, which led to the Tiger Cats’ only point of the first quarter.
After giving up a punt single, following another stop on defense, the Redblacks responded on the next drive with a few big shot plays. On the first play of the drive, Evans connected on a 50-yard pass to Acklin. However, the Redblacks’ drive would end there as the Tiger Cats’ defense held and prevented the Redblacks from scoring any points in the red zone. The Redblacks settled for a 20-yard field goal from Lewis Ward, which he hit, and they lead 10-1.
The Tiger Cats’ offense, which is normally excellent in the first half, but struggles to close out games in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter, registered two only first downs the entire first quarter, both came with less than 15 seconds left.
After a difficult opening first quarter from the Tiger-Cats – who are normally a very good first quarter team, with a +24 point differential in the opening frame this season – where they had as many turnovers (two) as first downs, recorded only one point on a punt single and gave up two sacks, they started moving the ball very well in on their first drive of the second quarter.
The Tiger Cats’ offense was propelled by their rushing attack, getting production on the ground from running back Don Jackson and both their quarterbacks: Dane Evans and Matthew Schiltz. They moved the ball efficiently and the threat of the ground game opened up the intermediate passing game. After kicking a field goal to cut the Redblacks’ lead to 10-4, the Tiger-Cats would move the ball all the way down to the Ottawa three-yard line but would fail to get into the endzone on three consecutive tries thanks to brilliant coverage by the Redblacks’ secondary and the Tiger-Cats turned the ball over for the third time.
On the Redblacks’ next offensive drive, Caleb Evans made a great play to escape immense pressure from the Tiger Cats’ defense, and scramble out of his own end zone for a first down. However, on the next play, he threw a deep ball downfield that sailed over the receiver’s head and got intercepted by defensive back Alden Darby Jr.
The Tiger Cats’ offense capitalized on the momentum created by their defense and continued moving the ball meticulously and efficiently downfield. The big play of the drive was a 39-yard pass from Evans to fullback Jake Burt who found a hole in the Redblacks’ defense and utilized his speed and ability to break tackles to move downfield. Schiltz capped off the drive with a two-yard rush TD on a QB draw and gave the Tiger-Cats an 11-10 lead, their first lead of the game.
The Redblacks’ miserable second quarter got worse after another two and out. The Tiger-Cats, who only scored one point in the first quarter, would complete the second quarter – where they outscored their opponent 17-0 – with a beautiful 25-yard TD pass from Dane Evans to receiver Anthony Johnson, who had two catches for 66 yards. That touchdown gave the Tiger-Cats an 18-10 lead at halftime and was made possible by a phenomenal one-handed catch on the sideline, a definite catch of the year candidate, by receiver Steven Dunbar for 36 yards to get to the Redblacks’ 29-yard line.
The first half was truly a tale of two quarters. The Redblacks were the better team on both sides of the ball in the first quarter, and the Tiger-Cats were by far the better team on offense and defense in the second quarter.
Despite a poor end to the first half, the Redblacks are a resilient, young squad and did not give up. The Redblacks started the second half with great field position after another huge return from Terry Williams who has been phenomenal on kick returns all season and finished the game with five kick returns for 159 yards. His return and an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Tiger-Cats set the Redblacks up on their opponents’ 45-yard line.
The Redblacks relied heavily on their run game to open the second half, which got the quick passing game clicking and opened up the field for Evans to throw. But two massive runs on second down from Evans and William Powell, each going for a first down to keep the drive alive, were the catalyst of the drive. Similar to how they started the first half, they scored on their opening drive in the second half after Evans found the endzone on a QB draw. Lewis Ward hit the PAT and the Redblacks’ cut the Tiger Cats’ lead to only one point.
After the touchdown, down 18-17 early in the third quarter, the Redblacks’ defense fed off the momentum their offense created and got a huge stop on defense to force a punt. The Redblacks’ defensive line, despite being shorthanded, created immense pressure against the Tiger Cats’ offensive line all night and on that drive, forced a holding penalty they couldn’t recover from.
Both defenses really heated up in the third quarter. They generated a ton of pressure by showing a lot of unique looks and disguised their coverages, making it difficult for both young QBs to progress through their reads, get completions and find their rhythm.
After the third quarter, the Tiger-Cats led 18-17 despite outgaining the Redblacks 306-146 through the air. The pressure created by the Redblacks’ defensive line, their three takeaways compared to the Tiger Cats’ two and their dynamic run game kept the game close.
After another sack by Redblack’s defensive lineman Davon Coleman to force a Tiger Cats’ punt, Evans showed his poise and calmness in the pocket by completing two nice passes to RJ Harris and Jaelon Acklin to advance to near midfield, but like they’ve done so often this season after big plays, two quick incompletions from Evans forced another punt.
On the ensuing defensive drive, Davon Coleman created the Redblacks’ fourth takeaway, strip-sacking Dane Evans before Lorenzo Mauldin Jr. picked up the loose ball at the Tiger Cats’ two-yard line. The Redblacks’ punched it in with Caleb Evans’ second rush TD of the evening and they re-took the lead 23-18 after their two-point try was unsuccessful, something that would come back to haunt them later on.
After trailing 18-10 at the half, the Redblacks went on a 13-0 run in the third quarter and during the first half of the fourth quarter to take a 23-18 lead. The Tiger-Cats had been outscored 99-25 in the second half and overtime coming into this game. It looked like the trend would continue, with Ottawa’s defense playing perfectly until midway through the final frame, until the Tiger-Cats ripped off a huge play.
With only a few minutes left, Tiger Cats’ defensive back Lawrence Woods returned a punt from Leone 88 yards after breaking several tackles and he set up his offense inside the Redblacks’ 10-yard line. He would’ve arguably taken it all the way if it hadn’t been for fullback/tight end Marco Dubois, who used his speed to make a phenomenal chase-down tackle to prevent the TD.
Even with the touchdown-saving tackle, the Tiger-Cats were in a prime position to score and take the lead. Redblacks’ defensive back Hakeem Bailey had other ideas and made a stellar play on the ball to jump the route and pick off backup and short-yardage QB Matthew Schiltz to give the Redblacks’ the lead with two minutes left. Unfortunately, the Redblacks’ offense couldn’t seal the game with a first down and they would need to rely on their defense one final time for their first win in 2022.
The Tiger Cats’ started their potential game-winning drive on the Redblacks’ 49-yard line after Leone punted from his own endzone. Dane Evans showed his talent, accuracy, and athleticism on the final drive, and was extremely calm in the pocket against the pressure. A 23-yard run from runningback Bralon Addison got the Tiger-Cats to the 26-yard line. A nice catch from receiver Tim White set the Tiger-Cats up inside the Redblacks’ seven-yard line. The Tiger Cats’ would have a first and goal from inside the Redblacks’ 10-yard line with a chance to win their first game of the year.
After a four-yard gain from Jackson on first down and an incompletion on second down, a third and goal would decide the game. Evans calmly moved around in the pocket to avoid pressure and his offensive line blocked long enough for Tim White to get open in the endzone. Evans fir the ball in a tight window, right to White to give the Tiger-Cats a 25-23 lead. It looked like there was a holding against the Tiger Cats’ offensive line on the play, but nothing was called.
It looked glim, but the Redblacks weren’t done yet after Williams returned the ball to his own 50 with 15 seconds left. The Redblacks strung together a few quick plays to advance to the Tiger Cats’ 47-yard line, where Ward would attempt a 54-yard field goal with no time left – his longest attempt of the year – to try and complete the comeback. Ward’s kick fell short by less than a yard and that was the difference between a win and a loss.
The Redblacks fall to 0-5 and all of a sudden, playoff hopes are getting slimmer despite a weakened East Division. They will host the Alouettes on Thursday in what is essentially a must-win contest. The Tiger-Cats were surely content to get their first win under their belt and will travel to BC to play a red-hot Lions team in hopes of getting another win and keeping their playoff dreams alive.
It was a disappointing result for sure, the Redblacks have all the pieces, they are simply struggling to put them all together in a game, which is what they need to do to win. How much longer will head coach Paul LaPolice keep his job before fans start calling for his head is another topic that may begin floating around Ottawa media very soon. It’s not all his fault, but every great coach needs to find a way to win, no matter the circumstances.