Wow! I have never been more happy to be completely wrong guessing how a game will play out. The REDBLACKS came to play, but what I didn’t see was the Ti-Cats going blow for blow and being denied a win only by a Hail Mary pass that should never have happened (see below). It was an instant classic with lots to look at. With no further ado here are some thoughts and takeaways from the 28-35 Ottawa win…
Ottawa vs Hamilton
- Prior to the game I was struck by how important it was to see football back in the nations capital. I will admit that I am too young to know Ottawa football teams as anything other than examples of failure and an odd time when two franchises had the words “Rough” and “Riders” in their names. Yet even that couldn’t detract to the pride I felt that we finally had a team in Ottawa, and it was doing well. On a more practical note it bodes well for the CFL that an expansion team can make it work like the REDBLACKS have (but I still think it’s a terrible name for a sports team).
- Kent Austin and Offensive Coordinator Tom Condell did a magnificent job in calling their game plan for Jeremiah Masoli. They kept the REDBLACKS dominant pass rush at bay with screens and short passes that took advantage of Masoli’s mobility and Hamilton’s shifty receivers. Masoli also surprised me with his accuracy on throws down the field and outside the hashes, it likely helped that he had the freedom to run or get outside the pocket. Austin made it easy for his QB which in turn did wonders for his confidence as the game went on, it also likely made Masoli a lot of money this offseason when he becomes a free agent.
- The QB play for Ottawa was by contrast much more inconsistent. Burris started the game nearly perfect and then leveled off as his receivers dropped passes and he overthrew short routes despite having good protection. Yet Burris showed his seasoning as he kept at it and used his legs when his team needed a first down (or a score in one case). He also nearly killed his team with a head scratching throw right into Hamilton defender Gason Nadon’s hands late in the game but was given a second chance by blind luck when Nadon dropped it. Burris took advantage of that saving grace with a Hail Mary pass that showed complete faith in his receiver and was rewarded with a storybook ending to the biggest game (so far) in RedBlack history.
- Other quick thoughts… Medlock tested my proclamation that he was the leagues best kicker with some shaky punting and a crucial missed kick, he may have been the biggest reason Ottawa was able to fight back with great field position…Fantuz can’t outrun people anymore but he can make a clutch catch when he needs to… The big difference in the game? Special Teams. Ottawa allowed no room for Brandon Banks to get going, forcing the Ti-Cats to drive the whole field multiple times…I have yet to see a football game in Canada that didn’t have Rider Fans somewhere in the crowd.
The decision by Hamilton to give up a safety for better field position right before half baffled me. I have (almost) never seen the logic in giving up 2 points for field position. In a league where teams are REWARDED for a missed field goals and long punts with a single point giving up a safety should always just result in the other team booting it as hard as they can if the drive stalls and hope they can make it three points anyway (why don’t teams try that more often?). In this case a shaky Medlock punt let Ottawa kick a field goal and sparked an 5 point turn around, questionable call by Austin.
Since I missed getting my picks up before the CFL Semi-Finals I need to admit I selected the Argos to top the Ti-Cats. But hey, everyone gets a mulligan right? Now with my freebie used up I’m 1-1 with three games to go, I pretty sure I can finish 4-1. So without further ado here are the official Practice Squad Playoff Picks! (100% Guaranteed to possibly be right)
Hamilton at Ottawa
A match-up that would have looked like an instant classic midway through the season now has the potential to be a one sided beat down similar to the Stamps and Lions last week. Jeremiah Masoli is set to make his 3rd career start against an Ottawa defense that lead the league in sacks this season. By contrast Henry Burris is heading into career start 234 and brings with him four (FOUR!) thousand yard receivers in Chris Matthews, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, and Greg Ellingson. While Hamilton will play hard on defense I don’t see this as a defensive slugging match like last week. I expect Burris to spread the ball and utilize William Powel on the ground to keep Hamilton’s defense on the field and exhausted while Ottawa’s defense stuffs the run and dares Masoli to throw on Abdul Kanneh and Co. in the secondary. While I will never count out Head Coach Kent Austin’s ability to coach up a team, I believe Ottawa sees this as a golden opportunity to go from Expansion team to CFL powerhouse.
Final Score OTT 31 – HAM 13
Calgary at Edmonton
A much harder game to call with Calgary coming off a dominant performance against BC despite key injuries throughout the contest and Edmonton coming off over two weeks rest. Edmonton took the season series 2-1 but Calgary has been able to push around their division rivals in big games the past few years and will look to do the same with a strong ground game and deadly passing attack in Jerome Messam and Bo Levi Mitchell. Edmonton will look to change the narrative with a scary good defense and their own top notch QB in Mike Reilly. I expressed concern in last weeks recap that Edmonton could take away Jerome Messam early with a few stuffs and get Bo Levi to air it out. While Bo can throw (yes I caught that) I think Head Coach Chris Jones would rather trust his corners (Watkins and Ojo) to provide sticky coverage and let his pass rushers feast on a patchwork O-Line then get into pounding match against Messam. When it comes down to it I can’t let the past cloud the fact that Edmonton is a more complete team.
Final Score EDM 24 – CGY 21
The first round of the 2015 CFL playoffs is in the books and we were treated to one unpredictable game between the Ti-Cats and Argos. I selected the Argos to win a close one but the result was a 22-25 win for the Cats. Here are some thoughts and breakdowns from the game.
Hamilton vs Toronto
- When it comes to winning in the playoffs the team with the best Quarterback and the best defense wins, in this game that was a split between the two teams. Ricky Ray had the playoff experience and veteran moxy at QB for the Argos while the Ti-Cats fielded the better defense by far. In the end it was the defense that gave the Ti-Cats time for third stringer Jeremiah Masoli to complete a few strikes and set up Justin”Money” Medlock for a game winner. Speaking of…
- Justin Medlock has replaced Paul McCallum as the CFL’s most reliable kicker. I know Rene Paredes had that crazy streak in 2013 but he followed that up with a somewhat disappointing 2014. Medlock has shown consistent accuracy and range throughout his career and had the disadvantage of kicking at windy Ivor Wynne Stadium for a spell. If I were to list my top three kickers they would be Medlock, Paredes, and Sean Whyte (What happened between him and Montreal?).
- Back to the game, my prediction that Ray could lead the Argos to a victory collapsed in the face of intense Ti-Cat pressure seemingly every snap. I know Ray must have been a little rusty and perhaps not healthy enough but he looked like a liability at times. It seemed like he didn’t see pressure at times or couldn’t make the correct adjustments to counter it. Hindsight is 20-20 but I feel that Trevor Harris should have been put in at some point in the second half to take advantage of his athleticism and make something happen.
- While I’m suggesting QB substitutions I gotta ask, WHY THE HECK was McPherson in the game? Ya the whole QB run thing worked a couple times but the Ti-Cats figured that out quick and left the Argos stymied. Are you telling me a series or two with Harris (who they at least trust to throw) wouldn’t have been more effective? I respect Coach Milanovich but it felt like he was outsmarting himself on that move
- Final Note on the game. The Tiger Cats have the most complete roster in the CFL…minus the Quarterback position. Defense, special teams, and the running game (welcome back Gable) are clicking at the right time to compensate for a reduced passing attack. If Zack Collaros hadn’t been injured I don’t think even Edmonton (my pick to win it all) would have slowed them down on the way to a Grey Cup. As it is I don’t think they are quite balanced enough to beat Ottawa (who I hope will win it all) but hey, what do I know?
- Continuing the theme of me not knowing things, I thought Mitchel Gale was a better option at the seasons start for the Argos than Harris. Whoops!
- Congrats to Jon Mason who won his third CFL Fantasy title in our Fantas-Eh Football League. You must be cheating…somehow.