The Ottawa Redblacks get their first win in Toronto since July 13, 2016, after defeating a very talented Toronto Argonauts’ squad by a score of 23-13 to improve to 1-6 on the season. All of a sudden, they’re right back in the playoff race.
The win comes on the shoulders of the Redblacks’ defense which shut down Andrew Harris – one of the CFL’s leading rushers, who eclipsed 10,000 career rush yards last week – and forced four sacks and multiple turnovers, wide receiver Jaelon Acklin, who became the CFL’s leading receiver in 2022 with 687 yards after recording seven catches for 144 yards and one touchdown tonight, and quarterback Caleb Evans, who played mistake-free football and got it done with his arms and his legs. He completed 24/29 passes for 286 yards, two TDs, and zero INTs.
The Redblacks started the game well on defense forcing a punt on the Argos’ first offensive drive after Avery Williams nearly forced an interception at midfield, but bobbled the ball before dropping it.
Acklin started the Redblacks’ first offensive drive with a huge 46-yard reception on 2nd & 8 to give the Redblacks a huge first down at the Argos’ 41-yard line. The Redblacks couldn’t advance the ball much further and settled for a 46-yard field goal by Lewis Ward to take a 3-0 lead.
The Argonauts responded nicely with a huge 25-yard reception from wide receiver Markeeth Ambles, who made several huge receptions in the game, to set the Argonauts up at the Redblacks’ 45-yard line. A few plays later, on 2nd and 10 from the Redblacks’ 35, Argos’ QB Macleod Bethel-Thompson’s intended pass to Kurleigh Gittens Jr. was overturned after being called a catch on the field. Boris Bede’s 42-yard field goal tied the game 3-3 midway through the first quarter.
The Redblacks would go two and out on their next drive after not recovering from a time-count violation penalty. Their defense held and after getting the ball back, Acklin made another great catch for 20 yards on a spectacular ball from Evans to set up his offense at the Argos’ 45.
Two powerful, downhill runs from backup running back Jackson Bennett set up a 3rd and 1, which backup quarterback Tyrie Adams easily converted, earning five yards on a QB draw to set up the Redblacks inside Toronto’s 30. Bennett would continue carrying the ball, running for seven yards on the next two plays, which brought out Ward for a 31-yard field goal, which he drilled down the middle near the end of the first quarter to give the Redblacks a 6-3 lead.
At the end of the first quarter, the Redblacks had 69 passing yards. Acklin had 66 receiving yards. Andrew Harris was shut out by the Redblacks’ defense, only recording eight yards on four carries.
The Redblacks started the next drive with a good read on a run play, forcing a tackle for a loss, but immediately surrendered a 16-yard reception to Gittens Jr. for a first down. On the next play, the Argos got a nine-yard reception from Andrew Harris to set up a 2nd and 1. The Argos tried to drive down the field quickly, but Lorenzo Mauldin had other ideas. He recorded his seventh sack of the season, tied with Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Pete Robertson for the most in the CFL to force a punt after a false start penalty by the Argos moved them back to a 2nd and 6.
The Redblacks went 2 & out and were forced to punt after Evans nearly threw a pick-six after a miscommunication with Acklin on an option route.
However, their defense continued to play well and generate pressure against Bethel-Thompson, who was previously undefeated against the Redblacks entering tonight. Davon Coleman got his first sack of the ball game, thanks to great coverage in the secondary which took away all of Bethel-Thompson’s options. The next three plays were all big catches from Gittens Jr., two of which went for first downs. On 2nd and 3 inside the Redblacks’ 30, Bethel-Thompson fired a strike to Brandon Banks – who made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch – for a 29-yard TD to give the Argos a 10-6 lead after the PAT midway through the second quarter.
The Redblacks couldn’t respond to the Argos’ TD drive and were forced to punt after Evans took a sack on a hard hit from former Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray. After the sack, the Argonauts controlled the clock on a long, meticulous 15-play drive downfield that took just under 5 minutes which resulted in a field goal to extend their lead to seven points.
The Redblacks responded well and moved the ball efficiently downfield in the two-minute drill, as they have done several times this season. Evans spread the ball out to multiple receivers including a 21-yard pass to Shaq Johnson, an eight-yard pass to Ryan Davis, and a seven-yard pass to Nate Behar before rolling right to evade pressure before making a perfect pass to find Acklin wide open in the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game 13-13 at halftime.
The Redblacks’ offense momentum continued to start the second half as they drove all the way down to the Argonauts’ 13-yard line thanks to several strong runs from William Powell in the run game to open up holes in the Argos’ defense for their receivers to get open in. Powell contributed 33 yards on the ground on that drive and made some key blocks to give Evans time to make passes to his receivers. Despite entering the red zone, they couldn’t find the endzone and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Lewis Ward to retake the lead 16-13.
The Argos were looking to retake the lead on their next drive, but the Redblacks’ defense had other ideas. Lorenzo Mauldin hit Andrew Harris really hard and forced a fumble – the only turnover in the game to that point – which teammate Patrick Levels recovered to give the Redblacks the ball back at midfield up by three points.
The Redblacks couldn’t do anything with their turnover after Evans took a sack from Shawn Oakman and they punted it to the Argos, whose offense strung together a few first downs before their drive stalled at midfield before they punted it back to Ottawa.
After a 13-yard catch from Johnson and a nine-yard catch from Bennett, Paul LaPolice made a risky decision to go for it on 3rd and 1 at his own 29-yard line, but it paid off after backup quarterback Tyrie Adams lunged forward for five yards and a first down before completing a 21-yard pass to Ryan Davis which set Ottawa up at their own 51-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
Ottawa’s drive would stall at midfield and the Argos got the ball back at their own 23 with a chance to take the lead.
After three quarters, the Redblacks were outrushing the Argos 71-31 and Harris was completely shut out by the Redblacks’ defense, with only 17 yards on nine carries. Both quarterbacks were playing well, with Bethel-Thompson slightly outgaining Evans 244-213 after three quarters. The Redblacks controlled the tempo in the third quarter after the Argos controlled the tempo in the second quarter. The team takes control in the fourth quarter will be bound to win the game.
The Argos are a good fourth-quarter team and have made multiple comebacks in the final quarter this season, including against Montreal and Saskatchewan, so the Redblacks’ defense would be put to the test.
The Argos started the fourth quarter with a boom after a 33-yard gain from Ambles, who was left wide open, and that set the Argos up near midfield. The Redblacks struggled to cover him from the slot all game and he was able to use his burst off the line of scrimmage, his speed, and his agility to create separation for the catch. However, the Argos would punt the ball away after two consecutive incompletions on deep balls downfield.
Evans and Acklin connected again on the Redblacks’ next drive for 15 yards and another 20 yards two plays later. Evans was on fire, completing 16 of his last 17 passes dating back to the start of the third quarter and was 20/25 for 252 yards and one TD to that point. Acklin’s 20-yard catch was his seventh reception of the night, giving him 144 yards and one TD.
On the very next play, the Redblacks were driving with under 10 minutes to play, wide receiver Nate Behar made a catch before bouncing off a tackle and getting eight yards after contact for a huge first down and the Redblacks were doing a great job controlling the clock. An 11-yard run from Evans – after a six-yard run from Powell – gave the Redblacks a first down in the red zone with 7:30 left.
After a run that was stuffed by the Argos’ defensive line and a five-yard gain on second down, Ward came onto the field preparing to give Ottawa a six-point lead with another field goal attempt. But a late objectionable conduct penalty against the Argos gave the Redblacks a first and goal at the seven-yard line. That penalty proved to be the turning point as Evans found Behar wide open in the endzone for a seven-yard TD pass to give the Redblacks a 23-13 lead.
The Redblacks’ defense would remain stout and force another two-and-out after defensive lineman Bryce Carter sacked Bethel-Thompson on 2nd and 3. The Redblacks got the ball back up 10 points with 5:14 to play, but only got one first down and only took two minutes off the clock before punting it back to the Argos after Ray recorded his second sack of the game.
Great punt coverage from the Redblacks forces Banks to run backwards and the Argos started their next drive at their own seven-yard line with 2:50 left to play. Two first-down completions to Harris – who was excellent in the receiving game today, but very underwhelming in the rushing game – gave the Argos the ball at their own 29-yard line.
After two incompletions, the Argos’ faced a daunting 3rd and 10 inside their own 30-yard line. However, a breakdown in the Redblacks’ secondary allowed receiver Tommy Nield to make a 34-yard catch to give his team a first down inside the Redblacks’ 50.
That was as far as the Argos’ could move the ball, however. Defensive lineman Kene Oneyka recorded the Redblacks’ fourth sack of the evening to force a 3rd and 10 after an incompletion on first down. On third down, Bethel-Thompson overthrew Banks and the Redblacks forced a turnover on downs.
The Redblacks got the ball back up 23-13 with 1:35 left, they were so close to their first win that they could taste it. Caleb Evans would pick up a first down with his legs on an eight-yard run and three plays later would convert a 3rd and 1 with a QB sneak to seal the game after two strong runs from Jackson Bennett for nine yards.
It took eight weeks and a lot of frustratingly close losses, but the Redblacks are finally victorious. They improve to 1-6 with the win and despite being last in the East Division, they are still in the thick of the playoff race, being only one game behind the Montreal Alouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and two games behind the East-leading Argos with many games still to play against East Division rivals.
This is a big win for all the Redblacks’ players and coaches and if the Redblacks build on this game, where they handily defeated a talented Argos team, they can be dangerous going forward. After a performance like this, Evans should be the starter moving forward and LaPolice’s job is safe for now.
The Reblacks have a short turn-around and host the Calgary Stampeders on August 5, looking for back-to-back wins. The Argos host the Tiger-Cats on August 6 in an important East Division game. The season is still young, anything can happen.