Redblack Redemption Blue Bombers looking to payback the 23-point beatdown by Ottawa that sent them spiralling into a 4-game losing streak

OTTAWA – The last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks shared the same field, what followed would be the beginning of a major turning point for the Blue and Gold.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/10/2018 (1585 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA – The last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks shared the same field, what followed would be the beginning of a major turning point for the Blue and Gold.

The Bombers had reclaimed their status as league contenders prior to the Aug. 17 meeting at Investors Group Field, entering the game with wins in four of their previous five games to improve to 5-2 on the season.

Then the Redblacks dealt the Bombers an embarrassing 44-21 loss, kicking off what would soon unravel into a four-game losing streak.

“You don’t get beat by 20-odd points and it’s just one thing,” head coach Mike O’Shea said Wednesday, following a closed practice at IGF. “There are a lot of things that could have gone differently for us.”

Now comming off back-to-back wins, the Bombers feel they have finally turned the page and their best football has yet to be played. The plan now is to prevent the Redblacks from spoiling the party again when the two teams meet at TD Place Friday night.

With that in mind, here are five storylines to keep an eye on.

A TIGHT PLAYOFF RACE

With four regular-season games remaining, the Bombers (7-7) find themselves in a fight to make the postseason. They’re tied for third place in the West with the Edmonton Eskimos and the B.C. Lions (6-7) close behind.

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea.

“If you don’t play well you get beat,” O’Shea quipped, when asked about the lessons taken from the loss to Ottawa. “But we’ve learned that a few times this year.”

After last week’s dominating 30-3 win over the Eskimos, the Bombers appear to be back on track. Yes, Winnipeg finally defeated a team with a winning record in Edmonton, and on the road to boot. But the real story of the Bombers should be revealed down the stretch, with tough games against Ottawa, Saskatchewan (9-5), Calgary (11-2) and Edmonton (7-7) to close out the regular season.

The Redblacks (8-5) have a stranglehold on a weak East division and need a win or tie to clinch a playoff berth for a fourth consecutive year.

“With our record right now we’re confident that we’re going to finish with a better record than we have in the last four years,” receiver Greg Ellingson said. “At the same time, we’re taking it one game at a time and making sure that we stack the wins up and take control of the East, stay on top of the East so we can get that first-round bye.”

DOMINANT D ROUND 2?

It will be difficult for the Bombers defence to replicate what they did last week against Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos. But if they can come even close, Winnipeg should be fine.

Indeed, limiting Reilly, the reigning league MVP and one of the favourites to win it again this year, to just three points on 17-for-31 (55 per cent) passing was nothing short of spectacular, especially for a group that has been victimized is the pass game more often than not in recent years.

The defence finished with six turnovers, resulting in 20 points for the Bombers, including a 73-yard pick-6 by Kevin Fogg.

AMBER BRACKEN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Drake Nevis (92) celebrates a quarterback sack on the Edmonton Eskimos with teammates Jovan Santos-Knox (45), Anthony Gaitor (23) and Gerald Rivers (56) during second half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday September 29, 2018.

“I think that’s the best I’ve seen our defence play since I’ve been a Blue Bomber,” said guard Patrick Neufeld, who joined the team in 2014. “That was such a dominating performance; from the D-line to linebackers to the secondary they were all just so consistent and played the way that they’re all, as a group, capable of playing.”

It’s a group that has been steadily improving, allowing just 307 yards of net offence – the league average is 354 – to their opponents over the last four games. But it was the Redblacks who dealt them a pounding before that, totalling 511 yards.

“One game doesn’t make us or break us. If we were to say ‘we made it, we’ve arrived’ based off one game then I think that would be foolish and bad leadership from the vets in this room,” said corner Chris Randle. “We don’t build games on top of game, we try to keep each one on its own but going through the film we’re aware what Ottawa did to us last time.”

THE MENTAL GAME

It’s been a tale of two players this season when it comes to Redblacks’ quarterback Trevor Harris.

Now in his third season in Ottawa and second as the undisputed starter, Harris has been lights out for much of the year. He’s eclipsed 300 passing yards in eight games this season, including a 361-yard performance against the Bombers.

He’s also been inconsistent at times, averaging 244 passing yards over his five losses.

“Up and down (season for me) but if you look at the standings, we’re in a good position right now and we don’t want to look back and dwell on the negatives,” said Harris. “You want to say ‘what did we learn from the negatives?”

Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris gets sacked by the Edmonton Eskimos in his last game before the bye week.

Ottawa is coming off a weeklong break – the Redblacks are 4-6 in games after a bye since 2014 – and Harris said the time away from the game has helped him reset mentally, something he believes is understated by many in football.

“I would say it’s roughly 80 per cent mental for me. Because anybody can do it physically, so of that 80 per cent there’s a lot of different sides to it,” started Harris. “There’s being able to handle the mental gymnastics; there’s being able to task, switch and be efficient with your decision-making; there’s being mentally prepared; and then there’s being in the correct mindset of intensity, from a 1 to 10 what’s your number that you need to be at to be at optimal performance? A combination of those things is really what generates you playing your best football.”

If Harris finds himself in that zone, he’ll be difficult to beat. If the Bombers defence can shut him down like they did against Reilly, a victory will surely be within reach.

STAYING GROUNDED

Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Ottawa Redblacks' William Powell, centre, holds the league lead in rushing - 1,141 yards.

Friday’s game will pin the two most dominant runners this season against one another, with Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris and Ottawa’s William Powell both having their sights on the CFL’s rushing title.

Powell (1,141 yards) currently holds a slight edge over Harris (1,101), but also has a game in hand to add to his lead. If Powell, who has six touchdowns on league-high 208 carries, is able to finish atop the CFL, he’ll be the first Ottawa running back to do so in 30 years (Orville Lee — 1988).

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris is right behind Powell with 1,101 yards rushing.

“I always pride myself on being an all-around running back,” said Powell, who, like Harris, is a dual threat, with 37 catches for 293 yards and one touchdown. “I’ve always worked on that growing up so that’s what I like to think I am.”

Harris has scored more touchdowns than Powell, punching in a CFL-best among running backs (eight) while adding another three through the air. The 31-year-old Winnipegger was the leading rusher last season and could repeat with a strong performance over the last four games.

But Harris’ maintains his focus lies on improving his totals on first down, an issue the offence has stressed for much of the season. It wasn’t until late in last week’s win over Edmonton did the run-game finally got some traction. Harris hopes that momentum can begin early against Ottawa.

“If you get five yards, six yards on a run play on first down it’s great. If you’re getting into second-and-short on the run game that’s even better,” he said. “I just felt that we left some stuff out there, plays that we could have been better on. At the end of the game we were able to grind it out and create first downs and basically chew off the clock. It did come together – and in crunch time when everyone knew we were running the ball, which is great – but just overall for the full 60 minutes I thought we could be better and we need to be better.”

BEST FOOT FORWARD

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Ottawa Redblacks' Lewis Ward is just two field goals away from tying the league record of 39 straight three-pointers.

A game rarely features a kicker’s duel but two big feet will be on full display.

Ottawa’s Lewis Ward has been the surprise of the season, with the 26-year-old, straight-out-of-college kicker on the brink of history. Ward, a Kingston, Ont. native who played his collegiate ball at Ottawa University, has made 37 consecutive field goals dating back to Week 1 and needs just two more to tie Rene Parades’ CFL record of 39, set between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Mark Taylor / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Justin Medlock has a league-leading six field-goal attempts from outside the 50-yard mark.

“That’s what my job is, to contribute to winning games and making my kicks and that’s what the guys expect of me and what my coaches expect of me,” said Ward. “My biggest motivator is not let the guys down because that’s what they expect of me and that’s what I’m here for.”

Winnipeg’s Justin Medlock, one of the league’s most reliable kickers, has watched Ward from afar and is impressed with what he’s done in his first season. Ward isn’t utilized in the same way as Medlock, whose six field-goal attempts from 50 yards or beyond (Ward has none) is the most in the CFL.

Still, Ward has been able to come through when he’s needed to, including two games where we went a perfect 7-for-7 in wins over Hamilton and Edmonton.

“He knows, too, that there’s going to be some hiccups and he hasn’t really had any of that,” said Medlock. “Right now he’s just enjoying the high and he’s just got to keep making them and helping his team – that’s the biggest thing.”

Medlock has been particularly good with his punting of late. He had just one punt inside the 10-yard line through his first seven games but has 11 over the last seven.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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