OTTAWA — The Ottawa Redblacks understand what's at stake against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday.
Ottawa (3-8) is currently last in the East Division, with Hamilton (4-7) slightly ahead in third. A win would allow the Redblacks to move into a tie with Hamilton, but a loss would make it challenging to gain ground.
The Redblacks would fall two games back with Hamilton already holding the tiebreaker having won both meetings between them. Mired in a five-game losing streak and three games behind second-place Montreal (6-5), Ottawa needs to get on track.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say this is an important game for us,” said Redblacks head coach Bob Dyce.
“We want to get to the playoffs, and this is a team that’s one game in front of us and they led the tiebreaker so we have to win this game to get on equal footing and whatever happens after that then we control our destiny."
The Redblacks are sticking with quarterback Dustin Crum, who earned the starting job after Jeremiah Masoli suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.
Crum made his debut on July 8 against Hamilton — after Masoli left the game injured — and fell just short of securing a late comeback win for the Redblacks in a 21-13 loss. Ottawa then dropped a 16-12 decision to the Ticats on July 28.
The 24-year-old Crum has proven he’s effective when using his legs. He rushed for 173 yards through his first two games against Hamilton. However, Ottawa could benefit from an improvement passing game that currently averages a league-low 202.7 yards per contest.
The magnitude of the game isn’t lost on Crum.
“It's kind of a playoff mentality for us,” he said. “I mean, we know how much is at stake and the hole we're already in.
"Obviously, if it gets much deeper, we're going to knock ourselves out of it so if we want to kind of be in a place where we control our own destiny we know we have to win.”
Ottawa is coming off a bye week, while Hamilton will have a short turnaround following its 41-28 loss to Toronto on Monday.
Taylor Powell will get the start for the Ticats, making him the third Ticats QB to face the Redblacks this year. Powell is coming off a 296-yard, three touchdown performance against the Argonauts.
While wins have been few and far between, Ottawa has shown a knack for coming back in games. Two of its three wins have come in overtime, but Dyce believes it’s important for the Redblacks to get off on the right foot.
“We want to make sure, and you guys alluded to it, about starting fast and continuing throughout the game and making sure we don't find ourselves in a position where we're trailing and have to do it late,” he said.
“We talked about starting fast continuing and playing through the fourth quarter as opposed to play into the fourth quarter."
It might not technically be a must-win for Ottawa, but of its seven games remaining, this is the only one remaining where it faces a team that is currently at or below. 500.
Linebacker Frankie Griffin will be making his return and has every intention of putting an end to Ottawa’s losing streak.
“I think we’ve just got to come in and play our best game, which I feel like we’re about to do come tomorrow night,” said Griffin. “It’s a win that we really need and it’s a win that’s attainable if everybody just executes, plays fast and physical.”
CAT NAP: Hamilton has not scored a point in the first quarter in each of its last four games and just once in its last seven.
RUN DUSTIN RUN: Dustin Crum leads all QBs with 479 rushing yards and is ninth overall in the CFL. Of his 61 carries, 42 have been on scrambles.
BREAK THE STREAK: Ottawa has lost 15 consecutive home games to East Division rivals. Their last home win against one was Nov. 2018 versus Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press