June 2, 2023

REDBLACKS’ confidence grows after conquering Argos’ ship in Guelph

The Ottawa REDBLACKS hit the field in Guelph on Thursday night in their final tune-up of the preseason, facing the nearly full-strength Toronto Argonauts.

The fans in Alumni Stadium were treated to some high-flying football, but those wearing the away team’s colours came away a little happier. The REDBLACKS scored early and often, reaching the end zone four times on the night, adding another two field goals off the right foot of Lewis Ward.

Much like last week, the result won’t matter when things get serious toward Labour Day, but on the final day to make a good impression on the coaching staff, Head Coach Bob Dyce believes this is a suitable reward for everyone’s efforts so far.

“I’m happy that these guys got a victory, with how hard they worked throughout training camp,” Dyce said on TSN 1200. “There’s still some work to do, but there were some good performances out there, and that is going to make decisions tough.”

On offence, the story of the night is the quarterbacking. Tyrie Adams kicked off the game, and looked like a veteran of many years in his short time at the helm. He comfortably completed all four of his passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 12 yards and another trip to goal.

Dustin Crum took over, and succeeded equally. He found his targets 12 times in his 18 attempts for 83 yards and a touchdown, but on the ground, he made his mark, saying he “surprised some of his teammates.” The Kent State alum rushed for 67 yards, including one run of over 20 yards, and scampered into the end zone once.

Jake Dunniway closed out the night with an effective four-for-five, and 28 yards, picking up a couple of first downs to ice the game away.

“I was impressed with all three of them,” Dyce said. “The big thing is not turning the ball over, and each one of them was very efficient in their own way. There were times when we needed a first down, or needed to move the ball off of our goal line, and they did it.

Crum spent time with the REDBLACKS last season, serving on the practice roster, but on Thursday night, had the chance to show his capabilities at the professional level for the first time. Despite looking impressive at practice, the moment was a little brighter this time.

“It’s different,” Crum said. “You get to experience the true nature of the game, and when you see that play clock getting a little shorter, that’s probably the biggest difference. You don’t have much time to evaluate things, you gotta be quick.”

His performance will undoubtedly have people talking, but it was something Crum, and the rest of the offence, has been working toward for weeks.

“It was awesome to be able to get out there and compete with the guys,” Crum said. “We got to bring to fruition everything we worked for, and put on display what we’re capable of, and that’s what it’s all about. I had a great time.”

The win is confidence building, if nothing else. Crum hopes it also serves as a reminder to the players in the room that they are going in the right direction, and under Dyce’s leadership, they are capable of translating the results into the regular season.

“It starts to show the culture we’re building here,” he said. “It’s something that we can build off of, and hopefully, we can stack days and get better moving forward.”

That culture begins with the coaches, Adams says, but extends to the players rather quickly.

“We set expectations of scoring on every drive that we get, and that won’t happen all the time, that’s just how football goes,” Adams said. “The offensive line did their job, and so did the receivers. Coach Khari Jones called one hell of a game, and when you have an Offensive Coordinator like that, as well as a Head Coach who’s willing to be aggressive, it shows the offence a lot of trust, and makes them want to succeed.”

Still, a preseason game without lessons learned is an opportunity for improvement wasted. As the offence settled in, and the defence smothered the Argos after their first drive, attention turned to special teams, where the REDBLACKS struggled.

Ottawa allowed a punt return of 84 yards, and a kickoff return of 68 yards, surrendering far more than comfortable. Dyce, who still serves as the Special Teams Coordinator, took full responsibility for the surprising lapses, and vows to find a solution.

“I might have to fire my Special Teams Coordinator,” Dyce said, poking fun at himself. “It comes down to discipline, and we weren’t necessarily [as good] as we needed to be, and that’s when big plays are going to happen. I’ve gotta do a better job instilling that discipline in them.”

The next step for the REDBLACKS is roster cutdown, which will create some stressful moments for players. Decisions will be tough, but players can feel they put their best foot forward throughout the process.

“You can only sit back and let things go the way they may,” Crum said. “It’s out of our hands at this point, but that back-and-forth competition raises everyone’s play, so it’s good for the team, and the fan base.”