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OTTAWA -- A playoff atmosphere is expected at Ottawa’s TD Place on Friday night, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats put their season on the line in an all-East clash against the REDBLACKS.
On paper it’s a game that one team desperately needs to win and the other looks to try new players in new places – not that either team will approach it that way. The Ticats, for one, are trying to avoid getting caught up in the magnitude of Friday night’s game.
“I don’t think I can go into the game thinking that,? Collaros, asked about his team’s do or die scenario, told Ticats.ca. “I don’t want to put more pressure on myself or the team. Obviously with the playoffs and what’s going on it’s a must-win, but I believe the key is to go in like you go into every single game.?
The REDBLACKS face a similar challenge but on the opposite side of the spectrum, in that their playoff hopes ended nearly a month ago and now they’re looking to take an urgent approach to a game that means nothing for them in the standings.
While the Ticats are playing on Friday night to keep their playoff hopes alive, the REDBLACKS are playing for next season. With real competition in the next two weeks against teams battling for their playoff lives, winning these final games would create a title wave of momentum for a young team looking for something to build on for 2015.
“Our guys fight. I’m proud to coach these guys because they try hard and they keep battling,? rookie head coach Rick Campbell told OttawaREDBLACKS.com. “But we need to graduate into closing out games and winning some of these close games.?
That was on display during last weekend’s 23-17 loss to the Montreal Alouettes, when the REDBLACKS fell just short in the dying minutes on an emotional night in the nation’s capital.
On an evening when both teams and every CFL fan united to mourn the deaths of two Canadian soldiers on home soil, Ottawa jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the game’s first drive before eventually surrendering 23 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter.
A field goal followed by a 58-yard touchdown pass between rookies Danny O’Brien and Scott Macdonell provided a possible glimpse of the REDBLACKS’ future, while cutting the deficit to only six points. But on the last drive of the game, Macdonell was tackled short of the first down marker on a third-down play, ending the team’s comeback bid.
It was a tough loss, but another learning experience for a young team still figuring out how to win CFL football games. Macdonell’s ups and downs throughout the second half of the game do pretty well to sum up where this team stands in its development.
“It was great to come back and contribute to the team and have the boys rally around me,? said Macdonell. “We really wanted that win. We were close there – the fumble they had reversed and then a couple of drives where we had our chances. It’s unfortunate.?
Like most young players on the team, Macdonell is enjoying some spectacular individual plays, but also learning the small details that matter most.
“I had my chances to get a first down and I messed up with my depth,? he added with regards to the team’s final offensive play of the game. “Third down, you’ve got to get past the sticks so if it is a body catch and they make the tackle, you get a first down.?
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t pull one out for this city, but we’ll work the next week to keep Ottawa proud of our team.?
“We just have to keep climbing, keep working – get rid of the mistakes and get ready for Hamilton.?
Most of the discussion when it comes to the REDBLACKS this season has revolved around their defence, led by Jasper Simmons and rookies like Antoine Pruneau, who recently earned Canadian Player of the Month honours for October.
This weekend though, many eyes will also be on an offensive unit that’s searching for answers entering 2015. Whether Henry Burris returns next year is another question, but either way, developing a quarterback of the future is an item near the top of this team’s agenda.
O’Brien completed 3-of-5 passing attempts in the loss to Montreal, with his touchdown pass to Macdonell accompanied by a bad interception off the bench he’d like to take back. The 24-year-old is expected to get more playing time on Friday night against a defence that last time these teams met two weeks ago held the REDBLACKS out of the end zone.
He, like Macdonell, is looking to learn from his mistakes and also make himself a candidate for the team’s starting quarterback position next June.
“One of the dumbest picks I have ever thrown in my life,? said O’Brien of the interception. “I was just trying to throw it away. Next time I’m going to throw it in the stands and give a fan a souvenir. Stupid me.?
While the REDBLACKS want to win Friday’s game but also posture themselves for next season, the Ticats are focused on winning and only winning. They’re 2-0 against the REDBLACKS this season, but know they’re in no position to take their East Division counterpart lightly.
“I don’t think we have a team that believes it can underestimate anybody. Our guys have fought for everything they’ve achieved here,? said Austin. “It’s not been easy, and I think our players and coaching staff understand that. If you don’t come to play any given week, you will get beat.?
The Ticats were in prime position to win the CFL East Division this season heading into last weekend’s tilt with the Argos, but lost to their hated rival for the second time in three weeks, 26-24 after a back-and-forth affair.
Mitchell Gale scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Argos towards the end of the fourth quarter, and the Ticats failed to respond on their final two possessions. It was a game that saw the Ticats battle back from a 15-0 first-quarter deficit and win the turnover battle handily, but in the end just not make enough plays to win it.