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December 9, 2019

Cauz: In the CFL, there are no easy picks

Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to highlighting just how incredible/unbelievable Zach Collaros’ 2019 season was. I mean, how many quarterbacks are told there isn’t a place for them on the Toronto Argonauts roster in early October and then win the Grey Cup less than two months later? However, the Collaros journey would not even rank as the single craziest story from this past season. Sorry Zach, you are going to have to settle for the silver medal for unexpected moments.

The leader of the pack has to be the start of the season by the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Watching Rick Campbell celebrating on TD Place field after his Ottawa REDBLACKS started the season 2-0 made me question just what was I doing making weekly picks for CFL.ca. (Winning that’s all!!!)

You may have forgotten since you have to go back to June 20, but the REDBLACKS opened the season by defeating the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, then followed that up at home with a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Let that sink in for a moment! The team that offensively was gutted in free agency started the 2019 season with wins over two Western teams that would go a combined 25-11 in the regular season. Ottawa would go on to win one more game and Coach Campbell got as far away as he could from Ottawa, taking the vacant BC Lions head coaching position. I remember after Ottawa’s 44-41 win over the Riders in Week 2. I was so confused, I felt like Will Ferrell’s character Mugatu from ‘Zoolander’ when he bellows out “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

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Let us continue this “crazy” theme and re-examine just what the hell was going on back in June. What happens when Calgary is at home, Bo Levi Mitchell plays the whole game and the opposing quarterback throws four interceptions with zero touchdowns? The obvious answer is Calgary stomps all over that team 87-3 and there is much joy in McMahon Stadium. Nope! Ottawa won that game 32-28, with the REDBLACKS outscoring the Stamps 11-0 in the fourth quarter. Kids, never gamble on sports. Ottawa’s second play on offence was a Dominique Davis interception to Tre Roberson (he would finish with three), leading to a Don Jackson touchdown run. For the game, Ottawa actually outgained Calgary 401-318 in yards and won the time of possession battle and had 10 more first downs. My head hurts.

This wasn’t even one of those games where Calgary squandered several impressive drives by stalling in the red zone and then missing field goals. Paredes went two for two. This game didn’t follow the usual upset script with the underdog somehow racing out to a big lead and then holding on late to secure an unexpected victory. Calgary led 18-6 after the first quarter and 28-17 with 8:43 left in the third after a Brandon Smith 59-yard interception return touchdown.

So how did Ottawa win this game in Calgary? There were some obvious factors. Mossis Madu ran for 112 yards, Ottawa did recover two Calgary fumbles (BUT neither led to a touchdown) and the defence helped limit Bo Levi Mitchell to a sub 60 per cent passing game as he finished with 16 incompletions. There were two plays in particular that easily could have been overlooked, but were the sneaky reasons why Ottawa opened the season with a win.

Two times Mitchell faced a second-and-10 in the fourth quarter and both times he missed open targets that would have led to big gains. With just under 11 minutes left the Calgary quarterback threw way high to Eric Rogers at the 35. A completion here would have led to, at the very least, a short field goal attempt with Calgary already leading 28-22. Fast forward to the two minute mark and this time Mitchell is inaccurate on a throw to an uncovered Michael Klukas. There was plenty for real estate for Klukas, who must have felt lonely near midfield. This was another opportunity for Calgary to put this game away. Credit Ottawa for staying in this game and to Dominique Davis for engineering that last minute game winning drive as he beat All-Star Cordarro Law to the corner of the end zone on his five yard touchdown run.


The Waggle, Ep. 189: All aboard the coaching carousel w/ Dave Naylor

EPISODE OVERVIEW: The off-season begins! CFL on TSN insider Dave Naylor joins Donnovan to discuss the first domino in the off-season coaching moves, as well as look ahead to some pending free agency questions.

EPISODE RUNDOWN: Rick Campbell’s move to BC (1:50); What is next for Jason Maas? (3:30); Ottawa’s HC vacancy (5:30); Edmonton HC vacancy (10:15); Is Chamblin safe in Argoland? (11:50); The QB free agent class of 2020 (20:00); The QB scenario in Winnipeg (27:15); 2019 takeaways (33:40); 2020 look-ahead, global player impact (37:00).


At least Ottawa’s 44-41 win over Saskatchewan felt a little more conventional in respects to Team X got a win because the starting quarterback put up big numbers. Davis bounced back big time from his four interception game by completing 77 per cent of his passes for 354 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. Also, Ottawa won the turnover battle, which is always part of the recipe for an underdog win.

What sticks out for me about this game beyond a brilliant debut by Cody Fajardo (360 yards, 2 TD 0 INT) was this win, which occurred on June 20, would mark the end of so many positive trends for Ottawa. The next morning the organization rightfully could puff out their chests and laugh at all the doom and gloom predictions that had been floating around leading up to the start of the season. They had defeated two elite teams from the big bad West Division and it looked like they had found more than capable replacements for Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson and William Powell. Davis was slinging the ball downfield with remarkable accuracy, especially on his first touchdown strike to Dominique Rhymes. For the remainder of the season Davis would total just two touchdown passes, he would not hit 300 yards in a game again and he would win just one more game. Dominique Rhymes was all over the field, finishing with 168 yards on 11 receptions and one touchdown. Rhymes would never hit double digit receptions again and over the next 15 games he would be held to under 50 yards seven times. After two weeks, Mossis Madu Jr. had accumulated 198 total yards and looked to be steadying influence for this young offence. Over the course of the rest of the season, Madu would never hit even 60 yards on the ground.

That two-week run by Ottawa gave us two weeks of entertainment and confusion and was a reminder of the old cliché that anything is possible. As I mentioned earlier in this column, the start of the REDBLACKS season should be a warning for whenever you think you have a 100 per cent lock for any upcoming game.