OTTAWA — Football is back in Ottawa.
In what started as a defensive battle fittingly ended in the only way a perfect story could — with a dramatic ending. Henry Burris led a late drive to set up a 23-yard Brett Maher field goal and send a sellout crowd at TD Place in a frenzy. The REDBLACkS topped the Toronto Argonauts 18-17 in the first Ottawa home game since 2005.
The victory was the first in franchise history.
Maher hit six field goals and accounted for all of Ottawa’s points while Burris finished 17 of 30 for 216 yards.
A game nine years in the making took over the City of Ottawa as the REDBLACKS played their first game at the brand new TD Place Stadium on the grounds of Lansdowne Park. The Stadium – parts of which remain from the original structure – formerly housed the Ottawa Rough Riders and Renegades in two different stints at what was then known as Frank Clair Stadium.
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The Argos got on the board first when Ricky Ray led a 9-play drive to set up a 27-yard Swayze Waters field goal. The score was set up by two completions underneath to Anthony Coombs who along with John Chiles is expected to fill a bigger role due to a myriad of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. The two Toronto receivers have been looked upon to step up as the Boatmen continue without their top three pass-catchers, as Chad Owens, Andre Durie and Jason Barnes all sit on the six-game injured recovering from a host of ailments.
When the REDBLACKS were introduced for the first time in pre-game intros only one player received a bigger ovation than his quarterback and it was running back Chevon Walker who has already become an early fan favourite. The former Ticat went to work early, catching a screen pass for a first down and bouncing outside for a big gain to set up a Brett Maher field goal.
Maher’s 27-yard field goal marked the first ever points scored at TD Place by the REDBLACKS.
Burris and co. looked to take their first lead of the game on their next possession when the 39-year-old pivot threw a strike down the seam to a wide-open Kierre Johnson but the speedy receiver couldn’t close his hands on it.
After the Argos added a single point off a punt at the end of the first quarter, the REDBLACKS implemented some trickery to earn their next score. Maher pulled down the ball on a punt and gained first down yardage on a run. Aided by an unnecessary roughness call on Argo DB Dwight Anderson and a pair of first down completions to Johnson and Marcus Henry, the REDBLACKS put another field goal (from 30 yards out) to take a 6-4 lead.
The Argos put another three on the board when Waters posted a 40-yarder after Darvin Adams hauled in a 45-yard reception down the middle of the field.
Ottawa then countered when Burris completed passed to Marcus Henry for 18 and handed off to Walker for another 9. A 35-yard pass interference call on Anderson helped position a 22-yard field goal by Maher who entered halftime with a 9-7 lead.
As the teams broke for the half, it was time for Ottawa to acknowledge its heroes of years past. A host of alumni were in attendance to watch the club re-retire the 10 jersey numbers that hung at the old Frank Clair Stadium during the Ottawa Rough Riders days. Among the Ottawa legends on hand were hall of famers Tony Gabriel and Russ Jackson.
The third quarter got underway with an identical pace to the first half – teams moving the ball well between the 30s but the defences closing the door and turning touchdowns into field goals.
Burris helped Ottawa extend their lead when he completed a fair of 15-yard passes to SB Dobson Collins to set up another Maher field goal.
As the fourth began, the Argonauts offence started to march. Ray found RB Steve Slaton over the middle for 28 yards before connecting with Terrell Sinkfield for 15 and Spencer Watt for 20. With the Boatmen in striking distance, Ray put the first major on the board by hitting Adams on a post route for a 20-yard touchdown. The drive gave Toronto a 14-12 lead early in the fourth as they capped off a 6-play, 75-yard possession.
A revived Argos offence seemed to open up the game a bit more as Burris found Johnson and FB John Delehunt down the sidelines for big gains to set up another Maher field goal attempt. This one, his longest of the day at 48 yards, was nailed with 5:07 left on the game clock to give Ottawa a one-point lead 15-14.
Ray had an answer however. The Argos pivot hit fullback Alexandre Dupuis for a 12-yard completion before finding Chiles for 11 yards. Waters then stepped into a 46-yard field goal to re-take the lead 17-15.
With 1:33 to work with, Burris ensured that this night belonged to Ottawa as he threw a bomb down the sideline to Johnson who made a difficult grab in tight coverage down the sideline for a 45-yard gain. Two plays later Maher split the uprights on a 23-yard field goal to cap the win and a 7-play drive that covered 60-yards.
The Argos took over with 38 seconds but a errant Ray pass sailed into the hands of former Argo DB Jasper Simmons to seal the win.
Comfortably in their new home now, the REDBLACKS host a former rival in the Saskatchewan Roughriders at TD Place in two weeks but visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Henry Burris’ return to Steeltown. The Argos, meanwhile, head to Mosaic Stadium to battle the Riders.