William Powell and the Redblacks Thrive in Close Games

Photo credit: Patrick Doyle, CFL

The East-leading Ottawa Redblacks are learning how to win the close games this season.

Of course, this statement comes with a somewhat steep caveat. It has been less than a month since the 24-point collapse against the Argonauts. However, that has been their one hiccup in one-score games in 2018. The Redblacks are 3-1 in games decided by seven points or less – the most wins in one-score games in the CFL. Their ability to outperform their opponents late in games was something the team struggled with last season.

Ottawa dug themselves quite the hole at the beginning of the 2017 season, hampered by games that slipped away in the fourth quarter. They started the first four weeks of the season winless, each game decided by seven points or less. In the first half of the 2017 season, the Redblacks were 1-6-1 in one-score games.

Redblacks running back, and the CFL’s second-leading rusher, William Powell says the team learned a lesson from their struggles in close games a year ago.

“We let a lot of those close ones get away and we wanted to put an emphasis on that this year to make sure we didn’t let that happen again,” said Powell. “We came in this year with a different mentality to finish hard in the fourth quarter and to finish strong.”

Winning the close games has made the difference between last year’s start and this year’s. At this part of the season a year ago, the Redblacks were 2-6-1. All six losses were in one-score games.

Being able to execute late in close games separates the good teams from the mediocre. Fueled by that 3-1 record in one-score games, the Redblacks finished the first half of the season 6-3 and are considered amongst the league’s contenders. Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell says it has been a big factor in the team’s improved first half to the season.

“I think that’s a big part of pro sports is the good teams find ways to win close games,” said Campbell. “It’s the teams that come up in the fourth quarter and make plays to win the game.”

The plays that the Redblacks have come up with to win close games have often come from their star running back. When the game is getting late, Powell seems to be at his best. He has been something of a closer for Ottawa. Though, instead of waiting all game in the bullpen, Powell is bruising bodies and wearing defenders down.

Four of Powell’s five touchdowns on the season have come in the fourth quarter. That includes game-winning touchdowns in the final minute against both the Lions and Alouettes and ‘final nail in the coffin’ scores to closeout Saskatchewan and, most recently, Winnipeg.

Powell says the offense’s ability to take advantage of defenses late in games is due to how well balanced it is.

“We have so many weapons across the board and we have a great o-line. In those close games, in the fourth quarter, we can go to the run if we have to. Not only to win the game, but to run the clock out as well. We are comfortable going to the run or the pass late,” said Powell.

The Redblacks’ balance on offense certainly gives them flexibility in their play calling late in games, but their success is also fueled by the endurance of Powell. No matter how many touches he sees in the first three quarters of games, he always seems fresh in the fourth. Powell’s endurance is one of his most devastating qualities. He said he focuses on having fresh legs throughout games.

“You want to be your strongest in the fourth quarter when everyone else is tired,” said Powell.

Looking ahead, the Redblacks begin the second half of their season this Friday night against the Alouettes. As we head into Labour Day weekend, the games will only become more important for Ottawa and their ability to win one-score games should prove significant in their quest to secure the East Division’s top spot.

“We just have to make sure we do carry that over to the second half of the season,” said Powell. “We just have to keep that mentality of fighting to the end.”