OTTAWA — By all accounts and statistical logic, the Ottawa Redblacks final game of the regular season should be nothing more than a formality.
Ottawa (4-13-0) closes out the CFL's regular season Saturday at TD Place with a matchup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-10-0), who will look to avoid injury as they prepare for next Sunday’s East Division semifinal against the Montreal Alouettes.
After a season that fell well short of expectations it would be almost understandable for the Redblacks to just go through the motions, but that would be taking the easy way out.
“Obviously we play for a record, but right now there is no record to play for,” said defensive lineman Cleyon Laing. “I think right now it’s playing for pride and playing for the opportunity to play football (and) play for the future. It’s one of those games you just have to find it from wherever it comes from because obviously the record isn’t going to be our motivation.”
The Tiger-Cats have no intention of taking any unnecessary risks. Backup QB Matthew Shiltz will get the start and a number of starters will get the day off, including receivers Tim White and Lemar Durant, as well as middle linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox.
The changes will allow for a number of little-used players to showcase their abilities.
“I feel like the vets … have done a great job of helping them prepare,” said Tiger-Cats head coach Orlando Steinauer. “There’s nothing like trial by error, right.”
While Ottawa quarterback Nick Arbuckle has been at the helm the last few weeks, interim head coach Bob Dyce is giving the final start to Caleb Evans to see what he can do under his offence. Dyce took over from Paul LaPolice who was let go Oct. 1.
“You always want to appreciate the opportunities in the moment,” said Evans. “I want to make sure I’m locked in and be the best version of myself for the team. I’m definitely grateful to be out there and get this chance.”
While there hasn't been much to celebrate for the Redblacks, Evans now holds the CFL record for most rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback after picking up two last week in a 30-27 loss to the Tiger-Cats.
“There’s a bunch of different things that happened this year, good and bad,” said Evans. “It was a roller-coaster of a ride, but you just try to cherish those moments with the guys you’ve got in the locker room because you never know how next year’s going to look.”
Finding motivation at this juncture of the season can be a challenge, especially for a team that has known its future for the much of the season, but Dyce believes his players are more than ready to play and extra incentive is unnecessary.
“I’m really lucky with this group,” said Dyce. “It’s a very driven group and very self-motivated group so I never worry about them or what am I going to say to motivate them.
"Some guys are motivated because they want to be back, some guys are motivated because they want to be great. Some guys are maybe motivated because they have a chance to prove the coaches wrong. Whatever your motivation is you just have to make sure you’re using it in the right direction."
The Redblacks will be without receiver Jaelon Acklin and running back Jackson Bennett.
HAMILTON (7-10-0) AT OTTAWA (4-13-0)
KEEP KICKING IT: Hamilton kicker Seth Small can set an all-time Hamilton field goal percentage record if he does not miss any attempts in Saturday’s game.
BREAK THE STREAK: The Redblacks hope to halt an 11-game home losing streak which stands as the fourth longest in CFL history. They are 1-22 at home since June 2019. Both Edmonton and Ottawa are winless at home this year. The CFL has never had two teams fail to win at home in the same season.
GET SACKING: Lorenzo Mauldin has eight sacks in the last seven games to take the CFL lead. The last Ottawa player to lead the CFL in Sacks was Angelo Snipes in 1992 with 20.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press