September 25, 2023

REDBLACKS fight on, earn win over Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders vs Ottawa REDBLACKS September 22, 2023 PHOTO: André Ringuette/Freestyle Photography

Go ahead and exhale, RNation.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS pushed their record against West Division opposition to 4-4, handling the Saskatchewan Roughriders 36-28 on Friday night. Like any good heavyweight bout in the ring, haymakers were traded back and forth all night long, before the home side was able to see out the clock, and clinch two points.

The win snapped Ottawa’s seven-game losing streak, and serves as a statement that this team hasn’t quit.

“I’m happy for the guys in the locker room, they have believed in themselves, even when others haven’t,” said Head Coach Bob Dyce. “They have great resolve, and it was great to see them rewarded with a victory.”

In a season where the margins have been so fine, the REDBLACKS have been unable to find the one or two plays to help them over the finish line. As the Roughriders threatened a late comeback, Ottawa stomped their foot down, and denied the opportunity.

Friday’s win wasn’t perfect, but this time, the REDBLACKS did just enough to get those couple of plays to go in their favour.

“We finished a little bit better,” Dyce said, before sharing the credit with Defensive Coordinator Barron Miles, and Offensive Coordinator Khari Jones. “Defensively, they did a great job at pressuring Saskatchewan’s quarterback, and the secondary made some great plays. Offensively, they finished drives.”

The REDBLACKS’ offence produced all night long, leading the team to their second-consecutive game with more than 35 points. At the helm, Dustin Crum put together arguably his best game to date, throwing for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while rushing for another major on a 35-yard scamper.

His night included a ball perfectly dropped into Bralon Addison’s arms deep into the endzone, and a handful of other beautiful passes that left the crowd at TD Place in awe.

“It’s a level of trust, and it’s getting comfortable with your guys,” Crum said, referencing why he has been able to find success in the past couple of weeks. “It has been a lot of fun to be a part of, and it’s cool to see us growing as a group.”

Certainly, Crum was aided by the threat of Devonte Williams in the backfield, who wore out the Riders’ defence to the tune of 136 rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, the defence was opportunistic, picking off Jake Dolegala twice, forcing a further three fumbles, and picking up five sacks, three of which came courtesy of Bryce Carter.

“I’m very proud of that defence,” Dyce said. “People on the outside have criticized them, but they showed who they truly are tonight, from the pressure up front, to the plays in the secondary.”

Injuries being what they are, the REDBLACKS’ defence is left looking a little different than they would have hoped, but whether it was Carter’s sacks, or Deandre Lamont’s pair of interceptions, the youth has stepped up as of late.

“We knew our backs are against the wall, and we need to play good football, one play at a time,” said safety Justin Howell. “We believe in everyone on this defence, it’s next-man-up.

After last week’s game, Crum spoke about learning how to win, and on Friday, he says there’s reason to believe they made real progress in that goal, but that doesn’t mean the lesson is over.

“You have to be able to take things from your wins and your losses, and you could see some growth tonight,” Crum said. “You would have liked to see a little bit more at times, but we still took a step forward, and we just need to keep going.”

All of the chatter about the past hasn’t phased Dyce. He denied any kind of dip in confidence toward the end of the game, refusing to acknowledge anything he can’t change.

“The fact of the matter is we won tonight, and that’s what we were focused on,” Dyce said. “Now we have an opportunity to play a Montreal team that is right in front of us, and we feel that we control our own destiny in that regard. We’re not looking back at the past, we just want to get better each week.”