REDBLACKS Channel Some old Hufnagel Magic and Come out on Top

The year was 2008, and then Head Coach John Hufnagel addressed his team, the Calgary Stampeders, in a pre-game speech that would become quite famous: “Team, we are playing Montreal in Montreal. We are playing on the road. We are playing in front of 65,000 screaming fans. Men, we got them right where we want them!” Calgary, who were underdogs, went on to win the game, and the speech has been replayed countless times since.

This past Saturday, the writing seemed to be on the wall at TD Place. For many, it was a foregone conclusion that the Ottawa REDBLACKS would fall to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. After all, the Winnipeg team has appeared in the last three Grey Cups, one of the top teams in the league in 2023, and a team Ottawa hasn’t beaten since the 2018 season.

Ottawa has also been riding some bad luck lately. Tyrie Adams, the quarterback who looked great in Ottawa’s last win against Edmonton, is now out for the season with a torn ACL. Jeremiah Masoli returned from an injury last week that took him out a year ago, but early on in the game against Hamilton, he ruptured his Achilles, and now he is out for the season.

This leaves Dustin Crum as the quarterback. In the game against Hamilton, Crum ran for 91 yards and scored a touchdown but threw two interceptions. It was his first game; he was still working out the kinks.

This past Saturday saw his first CFL start, and the first part of the game was rocky. In the early part of the game, the REDBLACKS only had five yards of offence while the Blue Bombers had jumped to an 11-point lead, as in 11-0. At halftime, the score was 18-3.

Around TD Place, you could see the nervous look on fans’ faces. There was chatter of leaving early, heading to Bluesfest or elsewhere that did not involve watching the home team being dismantled by Winnipeg.

The third quarter didn’t offer much help as the score at the end of 45 minutes was 25-6; the Blue Bombers had taken a commanding lead. Fans started heading for the exits, and it seemed the game was all but over.

This was predicted, though. All writers, in their weekly picks, had predicted Winnipeg to win. Oddsmakers had the REDBLACKS as huge underdogs.

Well, there is a reason they play for 60 minutes.

The fourth quarter saw a significantly different REDBLACKS team. While the arguments could be made that Ottawa’s special teams and defence were decent throughout the game, the fourth quarter saw the offence join in.

The quarter started with a field goal from Lewis Ward, followed by an interception return for a touchdown from Brandin Dandridge. The REDBLACKS opted for the 2-point conversion and made it.

The REDBLACKS’ defence shut down the Winnipeg offence in the fourth quarter, who couldn’t put any points on the board.

The REDBLACKS, with an incredible late drive, had the ball on the Winnipeg 12-yard line with nine seconds to go.

Dustin Crum didn’t like the options he saw, dropped back and ran it in for the touchdown. Again, they converted the two points and the game was tied and heading to overtime.

I stayed until the end, but I was told that fans who left early were outside TD Place asking to be let back in.

Winnipeg got the ball first in overtime and mustered up a field goal. Now it was Ottawa’s turn. At the 29-yard line, our fresh-faced QB Dustin Crum again decided to go for a run and run he did. He went 29 yards into the end zone, sending TD Place into a frenzy.

A few weeks ago, a naysayer might have said, “Ottawa beat the worst team in the league” when it won against Edmonton. Not the case here — the Ottawa REDBLACKS are establishing themselves in the 2023 season. With two significant injuries in as many weeks, their performance on Saturday shows they aren’t going quietly into the night; they are prepared to fight.

In his post-game interview, Coach Bob Dyce spoke about when players are given the opportunity; they will make plays.

And while I am no mind reader, part of me would like to think that Coach Dyce channelled some of that old Hufnagel magic. Perhaps this was going through his mind at the end of the third quarter: “Everyone has predicted we will lose this game. We are playing a team we haven’t beaten since 2018. We are down 19 points going into the fourth quarter. Gentlemen, we have them right where we want them!”

Tickets for the next REDBLACKS game, against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Friday, June 28th at 7:30 p.m., can be purchased by clicking here.

Photo: Keith Whittier