OTTAWA, ON – The Ottawa REDBLACKS kicked off their Grey Cup title defence with a nail-biting 31-31 tie against the visiting Calgary Stampeders on Friday night in front of a boisterous sell-out crowd of 24,565 at TD Place.
Rick Campbell’s REDBLACKS led for the majority of the contest before a 14-point fourth-quarter Calgary comeback sent the season opener to overtime. Once there, the two squads traded field goals and ended the night in a deadlock.
Quarterback Trevor Harris was sharp for the REDBLACKS, completing 33 of 45 pass attempts for 300 yards, a trio of touchdowns and one interception, while Ottawa’s defence dominated the first three quarters prior to the Bo Levi Mitchell-led Stamps offence hitting its stride late.
The REDBLACKS got things going in the first quarter, when defensive back Jerrell Gavins forced Calgary running back Jerome Messam into a fumble. Ottawa’s Ettore Lattanzio fell on the loose ball, and three plays later a 40-yard Brett Maher field goal drew first blood in favour of the REDBLACKS.
Ottawa then found the end zone on the opening play of the second quarter, when Harris connected with running back William Powell on a floated pass for a 7-yard touchdown. Harris then tossed a perfect dart to Greg Ellingson on the two-point convert to make it an 11-point REDBLACKS lead.
Calgary stormed back on the ensuing possession, but a critical stop from Ottawa linebacker Khalil Bass, who halted Messam dead in his tracks inside the REDBLACKS 5-yard line, hold the visitors to an 11-yard Rene Paredes field goal.
Bass’s strong night continued later in the second quarter, when he recovered and returned a ball that appeared to have been fumbled by Calgary slot back Kamar Jorden on the Ottawa goal line the length of the field for a REDBLACKS touchdown.
Upon review, however, it was deemed Jorden had broken the plane and the touchdown was changed to one of the Stampeder variety. Mitchell then found Marquay McDaniel at the back of the end zone for a pretty two-point convert, and the two clubs entered half time dead-locked 11-11.
Maher restored the Ottawa lead with a 27-yard field goal at the midway point of the third quarter, but a Paredes 20-yarder pulled Calgary back on level terms.
A nine-play, 75-yard drive spearheaded by Harris and running back Brendan Gillanders then culminated in an 11-yard Juron Criner touchdown reception. Maher drilled the extra point, and the REDBLACKS led 21-14 through three quarters of play.
Ottawa pushed its lead to 14 just four minutes into the final frame, when Josh Stangby athletically hauled in a 32-yard Harris pass in the end zone for his first career touchdown and Maher added the extra point.
After a heavy downpour slowed play for a few series, the Stampeders cut their deficit to one score when Mitchell found Lemar Durant for a 24-yard touchdown. Following the Paredes point-after, the REDBLACKS lead had been cut to 28-21.
The Stampeders then drew level on a three-yard Messam plunge with two minutes remaining.
After both teams squandered their first overtime possessions — Harris threw a deflected end-zone interception, while Paredes missed a 37-yard field goal for the Stamps win — the game ticked towards 11 o’clock.
Paredes did not miss a 14-yard chip shot on Calgary’s following possession, putting the onus on Ottawa to score at least a field goal.
A penalty and two incomplete passes later, Maher salvaged a tie for the REDBLACKS with a make-or-break, 37-yard kick.
The REDBLACKS know their opponent all too well for Week 2 as they’ll make the trek west to Alberta for a rematch with the Stamps – the third straight meeting between the two sides dating back to last November’s Grey Cup Final … can you say rivalry?