MONTREAL — The Ottawa REDBLACKS won’t have to travel far to open their season as they make the short trip east to take on the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday night at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium.
The two teams split their four meetings a year ago.
He’ll look to rekindle his performance from the last time the teams met in Week 19 of 2022 when he threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-30 loss.
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Wide receiver Jaelon Acklin, who amassed 1,169 receiving yards on 75 receptions a year ago, will lead the receiving unit alongside Nate Behar. Unfortunately for the REDBLACKS, newly acquired Shaq Evans will be out with a hand issue.
For a team that averaged under 20 points per game, they’ll need their two top receivers to be impact players beginning Saturday against an Alouettes defence that was second best at limiting yards through the air at 262.2 per game.
The REDBLACKS defence ranked sixth against the pass and seventh against the run last season when it came to yardage allowed, totals they’ll need to improve on if they hope to get out of the East Division basement.
Without Monshadrik Hunter who’s out with a pectoral injury, the secondary of Hakeem Bailey, Justin Howell and Abdul Kanneh will be tested right from the start as they’re tasked with keeping the likes of receivers Hergy Mayala and Kaion Julien-Grant in check.
They won’t have to worry about the Als newest weapon, Greg Ellingson, as he’s out for Saturdays matchup with a knee injury.
Sacks leader Lorenzo Mauldin IV returns and provides a steady presence up front and will hope to make quarterback Cody Fajardo uncomfortable in the pocket.
The injuries continue on the defensive front as linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox is sidelined while dealing with a hamstring issue.
Fajardo makes his way to Montreal after spending the previous three seasons in Saskatchewan. He completed 17 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns in his lone appearance against the REDBLACKS in 2022.
Being under centre for a new team is something Fajardo is looking forward to but he understands keeping his emotions in check will be important to leading his team to victory.
“There’s always jitters,” Fajardo told
“It comes with the territory with playing professional football. It takes you a couple throws and hits early on where you kind of settle in. There’s a lot of expectations. Now that they’re starting to count, the wins and losses, it’s going to mean a little bit more.”
Look for rookies Austin Mack and Keshunn Abram to be targeted in the Als new look receiving game as both stood out in training camp.
Antwi carried the bulk of the load for the Als last season rushing for 600 yards, but if Stanback can stay healthy after playing in just five games last year due to a leg injury, he could take considerable pressure off his new quarterback.
Stanback is confident in the team’s younger receivers and knows if the Als stick to their game plan they’ll find success against their divisional rivals.
“Whatever coach has written up for us we’re going to execute each play at a high level,”Stanback told.
“Yes, we do have some young receivers but they do have promising futures and I can see that. They’ve made some big plays throughout the preseason and they’re going to let it all out this weekend and let people know what we have coming in.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Wesley Sutton lead the secondary in trying close time and space and force Arbuckle, who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, into poor decisions downfield.
Defensive lineman Almondo Sewell will attempt to make his way through to Arbuckle and provide Duquoy, Sutton and the rest of the secondary with more opportunities to make big plays.
Divisional matchups are crucial given their ability to create a four point swing in the standings and both the REDBLACKS and the Alouettes will attempt to get off on the right foot.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EDT. The game can be seen on TSN/RDS, CFL+ (International) and CBS Sports in the US.
-With files from ottawaREDBLACKS.com and montrealalouettes.com