In a game that had a little bit of everything, especially in the final 10 minutes, the Ottawa Redblacks suffered another heartbreaking loss in a high-scoring affair, by a score of 40-33 to the Montreal Alouettes after a controversial overturning of two penalties essentially ended the Redblacks’ comeback on their final drive of the game.
The Redblacks are now the only winless team left in the CFL with a record of 0-6 and find themselves at the bottom of the East Division and the league standings. Despite moderately high expectations before the season, the Redblacks have lost 6 consecutive games, 32 of their last 36 games, and 17 of their last 19 home games. Paul LaPolice is 3-17 as the Redblacks’ head coach and 19-47 as a head coach in his career.
Paul LaPolice has been too conservative offensively with his playcalling, settling for three field goals inside the Alouettes’ 30-yard line on numerous occasions (a 15-yarder and a 10-yarder in the second quarter, and a 37-yarder in the third quarter) after preaching to finish drives with touchdowns and not field goals earlier in the year. On 3rd and short situations, LaPolice has to trust his offense more. Considering the Redblacks are tied for the third most offensive yards per play in the CFL with 5.1, they should not be afraid to go for it on a third and one or a third and two, especially with William Powell, a physical, downhill runner in the backfield who can break tackles and get tough yards.
Lewis Ward also missed a 40-yard field goal later in the first quarter. If the Redblacks scored a touchdown on any of the drives that ended in a field goal, it would’ve changed the entire game.
While the referees did not get every call right and had every fan at TD Place stadium shouting “Refs, you suck” as loud as you could possibly imagine, they were not the only reason why the Redblacks lost. Ottawa made several mistakes, missed some assignments in coverage, was too conservative offensively and settled for multiple field goals instead of touchdowns, had two costly drops, and had a costly turnover early in the fourth quarter which proved to be the game-winning score.
“We lost, we didn’t play well enough to win,” Redblacks Head Coach PauI LaPolice said in his post-game press conference. “We have to make sure we do better defensively. Offensively, we had two drops in the end zone. And we missed a field goal. You just can’t make those mistakes and [expect to] win football games.”
Two former Redblacks, QB Trevor Harris and QB Dominique Davis both had monster games. Harris completed 25/31 passes, for 341 yards and two TDs. Davis rushed for three TDs too.
The refs weren’t fully to blame, but they did make a handful of mistakes down the stretch.
With around 5:30 left in the third quarter, after a Redblacks two and out, a booming 75-yard punt from Redblacks’ punter Richie Leone was recovered by Chandler Worthy in the field of play and after failing to avoid a tackle from Redblacks’ defensive back Antoine Pruneau, Worthy was tackled in his own endzone for what should have been a safety. To the utter dismay of 20,000+ Redblacks fans at TD Place, the referees gave Montreal the ball at the one-yard line. The call was ultimately corrected by the command center and the safety cut the Alouettes’ lead to 25-19 with 5:20 left in the third quarter and gave the Redblacks the ball back. However, it took way too long for the referees to call the safety, which was clear and obvious.
The Redblacks capitalized on the safety, driving down the field methodically and efficiently with a few huge runs from William Powell and a 32-yard reception from Darvin Adams. Caleb Evans punched it in from two yards out on a QB draw and the Redblacks regained their lead 26-25 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
On the Alouettes’ next offensive possession, the Redblacks’ defense forced a fumble in the red zone to prevent the Alouettes from scoring and Ottawa maintained their lead. But the Redblacks couldn’t do anything off the turnover and were forced to punt. The Alouettes drove down the field and Davis punched in his third rush TD of the night to expand their lead to 33-26.
On their very next drive, the Redblacks drove all the way down the field to near the Alouettes’ 30-yard line. What appeared to be an incomplete pass to Nate Behar was called a catch and fumble, and Micah Awe returned it all the way down to the Redblacks’ three-yard line. While Behar did have slight control of the football, he did not have a chance to tuck the ball, take a step, or make a football move, which makes the fumble call confusing. Trevor Harris found Eugene Lewis for a three-yard TD and the Alouettes took a 40-26 lead with four minutes left.
On the Redblacks’ final drive of the game, which started at their own 10-yard line with just under two minutes left to play, the Alouettes looked to have committed two major infractions but got charged with neither. First, the Alouettes were flagged with a high hit against William Powell on a screen pass which would’ve put the Redblacks inside the ten-yard line with a chance to tie the game. Despite the Alouettes not having a challenge, the play was delayed for multiple minutes, in essence giving the Alouettes a free challenge, and the play – which looked like a clear high tackle – was overturned.
On the next play, from the Alouettes’ 19-yard line, Evans rolled right to buy time and delivered a perfect pass to Darvin Adams, who finished the game with nine catches for 118 yards and was wide open in the endzone but couldn’t hang on to the game-tying touchdown pass with 36 seconds left. It doesn’t matter what the referee calls, Adams has to make that catch.
After the incompletion, the Redblacks were facing a 2nd and 15 at the Alouettes’ 19. Caleb
Evans appeared to have been horsecollar tackled and the referees initially agreed and threw a flag. Despite the Alouettes not having a challenge, the game was delayed again for multiple minutes, which left fans confused. Even though the CFL command center is within its right to automatically review a pass interference penalty called or non-called, it’s shocking the referees would even review and eventually overturn a play that looked like a clear penalty. The play was recorded as a sack and the Redblacks were unable to convert on their 3rd and 20 from the Alouettes’ 24-yard line and the game ended 40-33 in favour of the Alouettes.
Overall, their offense played really well tonight, aside from a making few mistakes throughout. Their defense, which has been very good and quite consistent all season long, made several mistakes that contributed to the loss to the Alouettes.
“We had a couple of explosive plays, but we had missed tackles and missed opportunities when we were in a position to make plays,” Pruneau said in a post-game press conference. “We missed out today. It’s on all of us as a group.”
The Redblacks have a lot of work to do if they want to keep their very slim playoff chances alive, but of their six losses, you can make a case that they could’ve won every game except against Saskatchewan.
“As I told the players: We win or lose games, it’s not officiating. We have to find a way to win and not worry about the officiating; that’s the least of our worries,” LaPolice said. To LaPolice’s point, if Behar doesn’t fumble that ball, if Adams makes that catch, or Ward doesn’t miss that field goal, the Redblacks would likely win the game.
On the bright side, the Redblacks’ offense clicked tonight and it’s a sign of good things to come. William Powell recorded 79 yards on the ground on 17 carries, Jaelon Acklin and Darvin Adams both recorded over 100 receiving yards and Terry Williams had another monster game with 150 kick return yards on six returns. Caleb Evans looked great for the Redblacks for the most part, completing 25/40 passes for 297 yards, one passing TD, and one rushing TD.
The Redblacks started the game well on both sides of the ball. On the opening kickoff, Alouettes’ return man Chandler Worthy coughed up the ball after Redblacks’ linebacker Shaheed Salmon punched it out with a hard tackle. Leone pushed it out of bounds and the Redblacks took over at the Alouettes’ 49-yard line. That was the perfect start on defense for the Redblacks, who got a turnover before the Alouettes’ offense even stepped on the field.
After a huge sack from Patrick Levels to force a long second down which the Alouettes couldn’t convert, the Redblacks got the ball back and moved down the field quickly with the help of a beautiful 42-yard lob pass from Evans to Jaelon Acklin to set the Redblacks up inside the Alouettes’ 20. Two plays later, the Redblacks executed a screen pass to perfection; Darvin Adams caught a pass from Evans and took it into the endzone from 15 yards out thanks to excellent blocking downfield from his offensive line and the other receivers. Lewis Ward hit the PAT and the Redblacks took a 7-0 lead with 7:26 remaining in the first quarter.
After the Redblacks’ defense forced a two and out, they were set up nicely right at midfield on their next drive with a 22-yard punt return from Terry Williams. Evans made a nice play to get a first down with his legs after he rolled to his left and evaded multiple tacklers before scampering ten yards and then out of bounds past the sticks. After being unable to get a first down, LaPolice sent out Lewis Ward who missed a 40-yard attempt, but the single gave them an 8-0 lead.
Another sack by Ottawa’s Lorenzo Mauldin forced the Alouettes to punt it away. After a 23-yard return by Williams, the Redblacks meticulously moved the ball downfield with a few nice runs from Powell and a few nice catches from Acklin, Behar, and Adams. Despite making it inside the 10-yard line, the Redblacks settled for a 15-yard field goal which Ward hit. This is one of the instances when LaPolice’s conservative playcalling hurt them, they should’ve gone for the touchdown. If they had converted the TD for a 15-0 lead, the game’s result would’ve changed.
On the Alouettes’ next drive, the Redblacks’ secondary collapsed after a huge miscommunication in coverage. On a 2nd and 10 from their own 40, Alouettes’ receiver Hergy Mayala got past everybody. Trevor Harris saw he was wide open and delivered a perfect ball to Mayala in stride for a 69-yard gain to the Redblacks’ one-yard line. Short yardage QB Dominique Davis easily found his way into the endzone and Harris connected with Eugene Lewis for the two-point convert, the Redblacks’ lead was cut to 11-8. It’s hard for any defense to play a perfect game, but the Redblacks can’t keep making mistakes like that if they expect to win football games. A stop by the Redblacks on that play would lead to an Alouettes punt and Ottawa would get the ball back up 11-0.
After an Alouettes’ sack to force a punt, they would get another explosive play on second down from running back Jeshrun Antwi who broke a few tackles and used his speed for a 55-yard gain to get to the Ottawa 15-yard line. A few plays later, Harris would roll right and find Hergy Mayala for a four-yard TD to give the Alouettes a 15-11 lead. The Redblacks are normally excellent at getting stops on second down, but against the Alouettes, they struggled mightily.
After conceding a field goal, on a second and one backup QB Nick Arbuckle saw the loaded defensive front by the Alouettes. After faking the handoff to Powell, Arbuckle completed his first pass as a Redblack in style by finding a wide-open Jaelon Acklin downfield for a huge 47-yard gain to inside the Alouettes’ 15-yard line. After two short gains, on third and two from the seven, instead of going for a TD to tie the game before half, LaPolice’s conservativeness was apparent again as he sent out Ward who drilled the short field goal. The Alouettes led 18-14 at halftime.
The Redblacks started the second half well and moved the ball down the field meticulously using a mix of the run and pass, including a few nice runs from Powell and Evans for first downs. However, they cannot advance the ball any further than the Alouettes’ 30-yard line and settle for a 37-yard field goal to cut the Alouettes’ lead to 18-17.
The Alouettes responded to Ward’s field goal with a long drive of their own. They advanced the ball downfield using their run game to open up their receivers. The Alouettes made it inside the red zone and it looked like the Redblacks had forced a fumble and recovered it to prevent the Alouettes from extending their lead. However, it was later overturned to an incomplete pass, which didn’t seem like the right call considering it was close and there didn’t appear to be enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field. The Alouettes punched it in from two yards out – something Ottawa has struggled with this season – with Davis’ second rush TD of the game to take a 25-17 lead with 6:42 left in the third quarter.
After two Alouettes TDs to take a 40-26 lead, the Redblacks responded nicely, with an efficient drive that utilized several long completions to Adams, Acklin, and Shaq Johnson to get down the field quickly. A 27-yard pitch and catch by Acklin, who broke a few tackles to get some nice yards after the catch led to a one-yard TD on a QB draw by Caleb Evans. Ward hit the PAT to make it 40-33.
The Redblacks’ defense needed a quick stop after the TD. They did just that with a quick two and out to force the Alouettes to punt. The Redblacks had to drive 90 yards in two minutes for the game-tying score and they moved the ball effectively downfield. However, the two penalties that were called back left the Redblacks with a 3rd and long, which they couldn’t convert, ultimately ending the game.
Overall, the offense looked great apart from a few mistakes. The defense created a few big plays and turnovers but surrendered just as many big plays in return. The refs weren’t great, however, the Redblacks’ own mistakes hurt them just as much as the refs. The Redblacks’ conservative playcalling, dropped passes, Behar’s fumble, and mistakes in coverage all contributed to their loss.
The Redblacks have an extended 10-day break before traveling to Toronto to play the Argonauts. In the meantime, they have a lot of decisions to make regarding who the head coach and the starting QB will be. I wouldn’t be surprised to see LaPolice fired, but he honestly wasn’t too bad tonight. apart from some conservative play calling, which cost the Redblacks. He did dial up a few nice plays on offense and defense and won a few critical challenges that kept the Redblacks in the game. He’s been decent all year, helping his team stay competitive in five of six of their losses, which have been by seven points or fewer. Three losses have been by three points or fewer.
Regarding QB play, Evans looked good overall but is inconsistent at times. Sometimes, he’ll look like a veteran making great plays, and other times, he’ll make rookie mistakes. If they want to compete for a playoff spot, they should start the experienced veteran Arbuckle, but if they want to develop their youth, they’ll start Evans to see what they have in him as a backup behind Masoli next year.