The Ottawa REDBLACKS have moxy, no one can question that.
For the first time since 2019, the REDBLACKS returned to McMahon Stadium, where they battled the Calgary Stampeders to another incredible overtime win, taking a 43-41 victory.
There was no crazy 16-point comeback in the final two and a half minutes of the game this time, but it was entertaining all the same. Numerous times, the REDBLACKS found themselves needing a big drive, and each time, they found a way to get the big play, ultimately outlasting the Stamps.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Head Coach Bob Dyce. “They fight to the whistle every time. For 60 minutes – or more – we’re ready to give everything that we have, and that’s exactly what they did. In some regards, maybe it shouldn’t have been that close, but the big thing is that we fought back when we had to, and everybody had belief.”
In just his second career start, Dustin Crum was once again clinical in key situations. Despite the Stampeders turning up the heat, and using Cameron Judge as a spy to keep the 24-year-old pivot in the pocket, he found a way to do things through the air, completing 23 of 29 passes for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On the ground, when he did escape, he was efficient, adding another 63 yards to his season total.
Down by four late in the fourth quarter, Crum took the ball needing a touchdown, which he got with an impressive 23-yard deep strike to Nate Behar, and in overtime, the offence once again needed a touchdown to stay alive, and almost like clockwork, they marched before Ante Milanovich-Litre capped off the drive with his second touchdown of the evening.
The mindset was always the same, it didn’t matter the pressure of the situation.
“Just go down and score a touchdown,” Crum said nonchalantly. “As an offence, we were confident that if we scored, the game was over, but they made some good plays. But it doesn’t change. In overtime, we knew the defence would do enough to give us an opportunity to win, and they did. We got it done.”
Crum says that the experience in late-game situations, and in overtime already in his young career has helped, but what has been more impactful is his teammates around him.
“Any kind of experience helps, but having guys like Behar, Jaelon Acklin, Justin Hardy, Siaosi Mariner, all of those guys, gives you confidence as a quarterback,” Crum explained. “It allows you to play your best when you have guys around you that you know are going to be in the right spots.”
Those teammates, however, credit Crum for a lot of the poise the unit has shown, saying his presence in the huddle is far beyond his years.
“There’s nobody that panics, no one gets frustrated or starts asking for the ball,” Behar said. “Dustin is also calm and cool as can be, so offensively, when we’re in a slump, [we rally together]. Lows are going to happen, we’re all old enough to know that you have to keep chopping wood and carrying water, and things will turn around if you keep doing your job.”
The offence will steal much of the credit, and while at a glance, the defence had one of their lesser performances of the season, but despite allowing 41 points, they had their moments. Whether it was another pick-six from Bandin Dandridge, a fumble recovery from Lorenzo Mauldin – who REDBLACKS fans watched Twitter through gritted teeth after hearing he was carted off the practice field earlier in the week – or critical sacks of Stamps’ quarterback Jake Maier, they made their mark.
“Everybody is lifting up everybody,” Dyce said. “That’s what a team truly is. The special teams were down a little bit today, but the offence and defence picked them up. That’s the great thing about this team. We talk about being a REDBLACKS family.”
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. The REDBLACKS had a punt blocked, gave up five sacks, and watched as Maier threw for 450 yards with four passes for more than 30 yards, but when it’s all said and done, they found a way to win, moving to .500, and second place in the CFL’s East Division.
“We seized these opportunities, which gives us even greater opportunities ahead of us,” Dyce said. “We’re 3-3, we’re ahead of a couple of teams [in the standings], and we have to continue to build on what we’re doing. It’s a matter of continuing to get better, that’s our main goal.”
There’s still work to do, but this isn’t a football team anyone should be looking forward to meeting any time soon.
“Everyone was writing us off, and the obituaries were already written,” Behar said. “We’re not at the mountain top of anything yet, but to build off the big win last week and not have the hangover happen, gives us a lot to be confident about heading into the second trimester of the season.”