OTTAWA — Frustrations are starting to boil over for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Ottawa (3-10) is mired in a seven-game losing streak and sits last in the CFL's East Division heading into a game against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-7) Friday night.
Tensions came to a head Wednesday at practice when a fight broke out among players.
Head coach Bob Dyce downplayed the event Thursday, saying he was surprised he was even being asked about it.
“It happens, it happens all the time,” he said. “So, to me, it was really no big deal.”
Players saw things a little differently.
“It was a lot of frustration,” said defensive tackle Lorenzo Mauldin. “Guys are with their tempers high, and we know we need to win these games in order to even be talked about in the playoffs and guys are just pushing guys to go to the limit.”
In addition to the losing streak, it’s how the Redblacks are losing that’s frustrating. Ottawa has lost its last three home games by a total of eight points. Eleven of the Redblacks’ 13 games have come down to the final three minutes and they’ve only come out on the winning side twice.
In last week’s 41-37 loss to B.C., the Redblacks had a 19-point lead going into the fourth quarter and had a 16-point lead with three minutes left in the game and somehow still couldn't close out the win.
“It shows you a little bit that we’re probably not nearly as bad or as far away as our record might indicate as a team,” said quarterback Dustin Crum. “It’s a very competitive league and I think that’s why there’s been so many close games.”
The task won’t get any easier for the Redblacks this week.
On Tuesday the team announced kicker Lewis Ward suffered a torn pectoral muscle and was out for the remainder of the season. Ward has been the picture of consistency for Ottawa the last five seasons.
Duties will now fall on Michael Domagala, who signed with the Redblacks earlier in the week.
The Redblacks will also be without receiver Nate Behar and linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox is listed as questionable.
Saskatchewan is dealing with a number of injuries as well, including running back Jamal Morrow and defensive back Nelson Lokombo.
Both teams will be looking for a bounce back game, as the Riders fell to Edmonton 36-27 last week.
Crum had a solid outing last week, throwing for 233 yards and rushing for 46 and three touchdowns.
Crum and running back Devonte Williams will be counted on for the run game considering Saskatchewan surrendered 265 yards on the ground last week. For Crum, it’s about playing four solid quarters of ball.
“Obviously, we’ve had multiple games now that we’ve had a lead in the fourth quarter and kind of let it slip away,” he said. “Just being able to finish and play a complete game and be able to handle adversity because there’s not going to be many games in this league where you kind of run away with it.”
Ottawa’s defence will need to be solid and find a way to contain Jake Dolegala. The Riders QB threw three touchdown passes against Edmonton and will be eager to challenge an Ottawa core that has given up an average of 325.8 yards a game.
With just five games remaining the task of getting back into the playoff picture is a daunting one for the Redblacks, who are three games back of second-place Montreal and Hamilton.
“We know the task at hand for us to get to where we need to get to,” Dyce said. “This is a big one right here because we’ve got to make sure we keep ourselves fighting for the position that we want. We can’t afford to lose any ground to anybody going forward.”
ROUGHRIDERS (6-7) at REDBLACKS (3-10)
RUN DUSTIN RUN: Crum has shown he’s productive when he uses his legs. He’s rushed the ball 79 times and leads CFL QBs with 567 yards.
IT ENDS HERE: Saskatchewan has won its last four games against Ottawa
DON’T COUNT THEM OUT: With the average margin of defeat just 5.3 points and only two losses with a margin of 10 points or more the Redblacks might just be worth betting on.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.