To Redblacks O-line, Greg Ellingson's winning TD was like the 'best sunset I ever saw'

To Redblacks O-line, Greg Ellingson's winning TD was like the 'best sunset I ever saw'

For the CFL's most durable offensive line, getting to run amok was its own reward.

The scenario that wide receiver Greg Ellingson's 93-yard catch-and-run TD that gave Ottawa the 35-28 win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats occurred in was a fatalist's delight. In a tied East Division final with fewer than 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Ottawa Redblacks were backed up to second-and-25 at their 17-yard line by an unnecessary roughness penalty on left guard J'Micheal Deane.

Instead of feeling like they were on the brink, Jon Gott, Deane, right guard Nolan MacMillan and tackles Colin Kelly and SirVincent Rogers mentally blocked out being in a low-percentage situation as effectively as they held off Hamilton's pass rush. That bought time for Henry Burris to find Ellingson for the script-flipping, division-winning score that put Ottawa ahead for good with 1:11 left.

"I saw those sticks and thought, 'we're pretty far back,' " Gott admitted. "We practise that all the time, situations where we have only so much time to score. Hank gave him a perfect ball and Greg made the catch and took and it was like a miracle.

"I've never ran so fast in my life," said Gott, who will be playing in his second Grey Cup in Winnipeg on Sunday. "I thought I was going to cramp up by the end it. It was a fantastic play. It was unbelievable, unbelievable."

Part of an O-lineman's mindset is mentally hitting CTRL+R after every play, starting at zero. The Redblacks, in their first playoff game, were the more disciplined team with five penalties for 40 yards, to Hamilton's eight for 70. Deane's UR penalty, for an illegal chop block on Ted Laurent, the Ticats' most disruptive D-lineman, was a potential get-out-the-goat-horns turning point. On that play, Burris had also got away with throwing a pass right to Ticats defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, who dropped the early holiday gift.

"You know you still have to make plays," Deane said. "I messed up. I hurt my team. The fact that we were able to bounce back from that, the very next play, and get a touchdown, it's amazing. It's a testament to this team, it's a testament to Hank being the best quarterback in the league.

"It was unreal," added the Hinton, Alta., native, who will face a team from his home province in the Grey Cup. "First I was like, 'Oh, okay, Greg caught the ball.' Then: 'Oh, he broke a tackle, he's about to get a touchdown.' So I took off after everybody.

"The view was beautiful. It might as well have been the best sunset I ever saw in my life, running downfield and seeing everyone celebrating."

Ellingson, whose No. 82 could have  stood for the year of the last Ottawa playoff win, scored a touchdown on the same play against Hamilton on Nov. 7 while being covered by Ticats cornerback Courtney Stephen. This time around, this Redblacks had no alternative to going vertical. Failing to move the chains and punting likely would have staked Jeremiah Masoli and the Ticats to starting in Ottawa territory and needing only a field goal to win.

Hamiltonhad the right coverage, with Ed Gainey and Emanuel Davis both bracketing Ellingson, a 1,000-yard receiver. With a four-inch height advantage, the 6-foot-3 Ellingson won the ball over the 5-11 Gainey, who lost his balance. Ellingson then juked past Davis.

"I just widened out because that is what we are coached to do, get outside of a defender," said Ellingson, who had five catches for a game-high 187 yards. "The ball was thrown a little bit inside so I timed it so I could high-point it. He fell down and I had number 20 [Davis] in front of me. I tried to make him stop his feet. I made a little jab to the left, got my hand on his shoulder pad and he fell down and that was all she wrote. It's just surreal."

From his right guard spot, MacMillan felt more positive once he saw Ellingson in a good matchup.

"I saw that it was a contested ball and Greg is a dependable receiver, so I knew he was going to catch it," MacMillan said. "I was expecting that he was going out of bounds [to stop the clock] and he just took off. "

"I don't remember the last time I ran that far on a field," MacMillan added. "This is a longer field than I'm used to. It was a full 100-yard — I'm not going to say sprint — but full-out run. I was winded. I was walking back for the convert, gasping, trying to get my air."

Only in the CFL

The Ticats tied the game 28-28 on a 22-yard TD catch by Luke Tasker with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter. In the NFL, the protocol for a team with multiple 1,000-yard receivers in that situation would be to dink and dunk with controlled passing routes, using their three timeouts and trying to set up a field goal with no time for a response. The CFL, as the more free-form football, where mature practitioners can end up tangled up in some college-style zaniness, doesn't allow for overcoaching-induced caution.

"Anything can happen in this league," Gott said. "When it's tied in the NFL with three minutes left, they can work the clock down. Up here anything can happen. We still had to stop them and then get another first down to end it."

Whatever happens next week in Winnipeg, the Redblacks addressed doubts about how they would react emotionally in their first playoff game. One would think people would have got the memo that if they were going to fold, it would happened some time around September.

"We were probably giving some heart attacks out there today," MacMillan said. "We just believe and we find a way. Even when when it looks like we're not doing so well, or having a string of bad plays, we just play the next play."

Overall, it wasn't a signature performance by the Redblacks, with Burris passing 17-of-32 for 326 yards with one touchdown apiece by land and air and no interceptions. The Tiger-Cats kept Burris guessing all afternoon. Ottawa was turnover-free, though, and it made enough plays. The 40-year-old quarterback also had a deft scramble for the second Redblacks touchdown.

"After the bye week the knee felt better so i was able to use my legs more," Burris said.

A football team is only as good as its lines, although stars at the counting-stat positions get more attention and interview requests. However, it does serve a certain narrative that the only offensive line to have the same five protect the same starting quarterback for all 19 games and counting is going to the league championship. It's also a microcosm of the turnaround from the 2-16 yearling season in 2014, when the line struggled with assignments and penalty avoidance.

"I will remember this game for the rest of my life; I will remember this group of guys for the rest of my life," said Deane, a Michigan State alumnus. "After going through what we did last year, this is like a dream come true — to be on a team where we're going out and we're balling every game. I just believe in my team and we're going to go to this Grey Cup and do what we have to."

"We're a tough SOBs, just to be able to get to where we are right now and gel as much as we have. I love my O-line. I'm proud to be able to play next to these four guys."

For sake of posterity, MacMillian appeared to be the first Redblack lineman to congratulate Ellingson. Deane, the Ottawa's largest active player at 6-foot-5 and 328 pounds, was the second.

"When I saw them celebrating in the end zone I went in and meant to jump on everybody," Deane laughed. "But then then everybody fell over. Is that some kind of sign?"

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.