CHAMPS DO THEIR PART

Red­blacks’ botched op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a play had as big a hand in semi­fi­nal re­sult as any­thing the Rid­ers did ... Deja vu for 2006 West semi ... Re­call­ing Reed’s big game

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - ROB VANSTONE

OT­TAWA — The lat­est post-mortem is more ap­pli­ca­ble, the­mat­i­cally, to the Ot­tawa Red­blacks.

The Red­blacks’ sea­son is over as a re­sult of Sun­day’s 31-20 loss to the vis­it­ing Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers in the CFL’s East Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal.

Saskatchewan, which took the cross­over route to the play­offs af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth in the West, pro­ceeds to the East fi­nal against the host Toronto Arg­onauts.

Mem­bers of the Red­blacks are left to won­der what went wrong with an Ot­tawa-based Grey Cup game ap­proach­ing.

There were some ob­vi­ous break­downs by the Red­blacks, such as a 75-yard touch­down run by mer­cu­rial Mar­cus Thig­pen. More than half of the Red­blacks’ de­fen­sive play­ers tried to catch him, and all failed.

But some of the dif­fer­ence­mak­ing mo­ments in Sun­day’s game did not ap­pear on the high­light reels.

Con­sider what had tran­spired just be­fore Thig­pen’s spec­tac­u­lar sprint.

The Roughrid­ers’ Chris­tion Jones had fum­bled on a punt re­turn — on his team’s 19-yard line.

Just like that, Ot­tawa was in the red zone, with a giftwrapped scor­ing op­por­tu­nity.

Trail­ing 21-8 early in the third quar­ter, the Red­blacks had a chance to quickly make it a one-pos­ses­sion game and en­liven a sell­out crowd.

On first down, Ot­tawa quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris threw a quick pass to Juron Criner, who was tack- led by Kacy Rodgers II af­ter a five-yard gain. On sec­ond down, a short flip to tail­back Wil­liam Pow­ell fell in­com­plete. The Red­blacks set­tled for a 22-yard field goal by Brett Ma­her.

Thig­pen scored on the very next play. Ka­boom!

That was one dis­play of ex­cel­lent tim­ing by the Roughrid­ers, who sur­ren­dered 457 pass­ing yards but re­li­ably re­pelled the ae­rial at­tack at cru­cial junc­tures.

Most mem­o­rably, Ot­tawa marched to Saskatchewan’s 10-yard line be­fore Har­ris was in­ter­cepted by line­backer Sa­muel Eguavoen. The pick cost Ot­tawa at least three points.

In the fourth quar­ter, Ot­tawa ad­vanced to the Roughrid­ers’ 22 be­fore gam­bling on third-and-five. Har­ris then found Dion­tae Spencer ... for four yards. Turnover on downs.

Ear­lier, Spencer had ma­noeu­vred his way be­hind Rodgers for com­ple­tions of 56 and 33 yards, with the longer gain pro­duc­ing a touch­down. How­ever, it was Rodgers who cru­cially tack­led Spencer one yard shy of a first down with 4:10 left in the game.

Ul­ti­mately, Rodgers more than coun­ter­acted the two ex­plo­sive plays by lim­it­ing Criner to five yards and Spencer to four.

The failed gam­ble was a ques­tion­able tac­ti­cal move by Red­blacks head coach Rick Camp­bell, whose team trailed 31-14 at the time. Ot­tawa re­quired two con­verted touch­downs and a field goal to tie. Why not take the field goal at that point and make it a two-pos­ses­sion game?

Ot­tawa, re­mem­ber, did score a sub­se­quent touch­down when Har­ris hit Criner from five yards away with 1:47 re­main­ing.

Plus, the Red­blacks did get as far as the Roughrid­ers’ 22-yard line in the fi­nal sec­onds. That proved to be garbage time be­cause Ot­tawa was trail­ing by 11. Now, if Camp­bell had opted for the field goal ...

One more what-if mo­ment: Early in the sec­ond quar­ter, Har­ris looked deep for the East’s pre­mier re­ceiver, Greg Ellingson.

The pass was on-tar­get and Ellingson was open at the Roughrid­ers’ 10-yard line. Sur­pris­ingly, the usu­ally sure-handed Ellingson did not make the catch. (Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, Ellingson suf­fered a knee in­jury on the play.)

On sec­ond down, Har­ris threw a short pass to Criner, who was felled by Jovon John­son for a five-yard gain. Punt.

The tackle by John­son was in­dica­tive of the man­ner in which the Roughrid­ers per­formed on Sun­day.

Whether it was Rodgers haul­ing down Criner or Spencer, or John­son stop­ping Criner, the Roughrid­ers’ tack­ling was vir­tu­ally flaw­less.

Nu­mer­ous times, Har­ris looked to re­ceivers on un­der­neath routes and, with few ex­cep­tions, the ball-car­rier would be wrapped up for a short, in­suf­fi­cient gain.

Even­tu­ally, the Roughrid­ers were able to put the wraps on the game as a whole.

LONG-DIS­TANCE FEEL­ING

There are strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween last Sun­day’s game and the 2006 West Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal.

For starters, the scores are vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal. Saskatchewan won 31-20 on Sun­day and 30-21 on Nov. 5, 2006, over the host Stam­ped­ers.

Un­til this past week­end, Saskatchewan had not won a first-round play­off game on the road since dis­pos­ing of the Stam­ped­ers 11 years ago.

In both games, the Roughrid­ers erupted for a long touch­down run on their first of­fen­sive play of the sec­ond half.

Ken­ton Keith took off on a 76-yarder af­ter Do­minique Dorsey’s 22-yard kick­off re­turn in the 2006 game. On Sun­day, Thig­pen crossed the goal line at 3:13 of the third quar­ter.

Thig­pen pro­duced Saskatchewan’s first one-play, 75-yard scor­ing drive in the post-sea­son since Nov. 26, 1989, when Kent Austin found Jeff Fairholm on a scor­ing bomb in the 77th Grey Cup game.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Rid­ers’ Wil­l­lie Jef­fer­son (7) and Ed Gainey cel­e­brate af­ter stop­ping Red­blacks’ Wil­liam Pow­ell dur­ing Sun­day’s vic­tory.

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