Ottawa Redblacks can finally put the ‘winless’ title to bed after beating the Toronto Argonauts 23-13 at BMO Field on Sunday.
Following several tough losses – five of their six previous contests being decided by one possession – the Redblacks find themselves back in the hunt of the CFL’s lowly East Division.
“It’s a relief to get the win,” said Ottawa’s head coach, Paul LaPolice, in a post-game scrum. “We’re happy to get a win and happy to survive for 24 hours and enjoy it.”
Caleb Evans, who made his third start at quarterback after regular starter Jeremiah Masoli suffered an ACL injury in week four, completed 24 of his 29 attempts for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Jaelon Acklin had 144 receiving yards and a touchdown, making it a third straight game where he eclipsed the century mark in yardage.
“You feel relieved, honestly,” the Ottawa pass-catcher, who now leads the CFL in receiving yards with 687 on the season, said after the game.
“It feels like we got a monkey off our back … it’s nice to finally get a win.”
McLeod Bethel-Thompson passed for a season-high 340 yards, and it brought him above 10,000 passing yards over his career, but his milestone moment was spoiled.
The Redblacks’ record improves to 1-6, while Toronto falls to .500 at 3-3.
Ottawa scored on its first possession when Lewis Ward hit a 46-yard field goal after Acklin exploited some poor tackling from the Argos on a 46-yard catch and run.
Boris Bede responded with a 42-yard field goal of his own after Ottawa had a successful challenge on a Kurleigh Gittens Jr. catch attempt that would have moved the sticks to the Redblacks’ 30-yard-line.
Ward hit another from 31 yards out to end the first quarter with the score at 6-3 for Ottawa after both teams exchanged several punts.
Halfway through the second quarter, Bethel-Thompson dropped one perfectly over Brandon Banks’ shoulder for a 31-yard touchdown, the 35-year-old pivot’s eighth of the season.
Bede added three more for the Boatmen right before halftime, but 55 seconds left on the clock were enough for Evans to march down the field and connect with a wide-open Acklin on a broken coverage to tie the game at 13-13.
“That helped us get a little spark,” said Evans, who achieved his highest completion percentage this season. “We just felt like we’d come out and keep our foot on the gas.”
In the second half, after Evans failed to find an uncovered Ryan Davis – the Redblacks’ leader in receptions in 2021 making his season debut – in the end zone on second down, Ward kicked a chip-shot 21-yard field goal to reclaim the lead.
Andrew Harris was trying to find space after an uncharacteristically quiet first half where he only had 21 rushing yards on seven attempts, but Lorenzo Mauldin made a hard tackle to knock the ball loose and Patrick Levels was there for Ottawa on the recovery.
Harris finished the game with a season-low 17 rushing yards, and Mauldin played a large part on a defence that game planned specifically to limit the former MVP’s effectiveness on the ground.
“If he can’t run, they can’t play. They pride themselves on his run game, and we shut it down,” said the Ottawa defender, who also recorded a league-leading seventh sack.
“I knew when I got in his head, because he just started cursing – he started flipping out, throwing temper tantrums. You got to put a kid in his place when he’s throwing temper tantrums.”
In the fourth quarter, Ottawa had a five-minute drive ending with a Nate Behar score to make it 23-13, which sucked the air out of the stadium and the Toronto sideline.
With frustration rising, Wynton McManis and Chris Edwards both drew objectionable conduct penalties. The former for throwing a shoe at a player he tackled, and the latter drew a flag about ten seconds after Behar caught the touchdown pass, which led to him being removed from the game.
“We’ve got to find a way to police ourselves,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, the Argos’ head coach, after the game. “When things don’t go our way, we act like children and have temper tantrums and then we let our teammates down.”
The Argos were blanked in the second half, while the Redblacks’, playing with much more to lose, were clicking on all fronts.
Toronto now heads into a five-game stretch where they will meet the Hamilton Tiger-Cats four times. Ottawa will play host to the Calgary Stampeders in week nine, hoping to make it two wins in a row.