The Ottawa REDBLACKS did not disappoint the sold out crowd at TD Place on Saturday night, defeating the BC Lions 27-16 in their home opener and earning their second straight win to open the season.
With the win, the REDBLACKS match the number of victories that they had in total last season.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Arceneaux had a game-high seven catches for 112 yards for the Lions but was outshone by local Ottawa product Brad Sinopoli, who had nine catches for 99 yards along with a touchdown for the REDBLACKS.
Henry Burris led the REDBLACKS with three touchdown passes and 296 yards while Travis Lulay was 18-for-32 for 254 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
After a long layoff for one of the league’s most proven passers, Lulay attacked the REDBLACKS defence on his very first play from scrimmage, connecting with Arceneaux on the deep ball to move BC within scoring range.
A pass interference penalty called on a review by rookie head coach Jeff Tedford extended the Lions’ drive, which eventually ended in a Richie Leone field goal – the first of his young career – to give BC a 3-0 lead in quarter number one.
Another field goal built the Lions’ lead to 6-0 early in the second quarter, but the REDBLACKS responded immediately after that. A 21-yard run by Chevon Walker put the wheels in motion, then on a second-down play Burris connected with Williams for a 27-yard pickup to the BC 23.
After Burris extended the drive on second down with his legs on a 13-yard pickup, the veteran gunslinger hit University of Ottawa alum Sinopoli on first down with a swing pass to the right side of the field. Sinopoli found enough space to hit the end zone to provide the game’s first touchdown.
The score capped off a six-play, 75-yard drive and gave the REDBLACKS their first lead of the game.
The lead was short-lived as the Lions added a punt single to tie things up, but Ottawa wasn’t about to let that ruin the mood in its home opener. After a punt inside the final minute by BC, Burris found Sinopoli for a first down in the dying seconds, more importantly giving Ottawa a chance to make a field goal with less than a second left.
Delbert Alvarado connected from 46 yards out with zeros on the clock, sending Ottawa to a 10-7 halftime lead.
An early safety after a snap over the head of Burris put BC back in the game, while Ottawa avoided total catastrophe when the ensuing kickoff was returned by Shaquille Murray-Lawrence for a touchdown – only for it to be called back on a blocking penalty. The REDBLACKS made a key stop on defence and added a field goal to extend their lead, 13-9.
Late in the third quarter, however, the Lions’ offence opened up. Completions to Shawn Gore and Andrew Harris for 29 and 17 yards respectively moved BC to the 26, while from there Lulay found first-year CFLer Austin Collie behind coverage for the drive-capping touchdown.
The six-pointer marked Lulay’s first touchdown pass since 2013 and gave the Lions a 16-13 lead, one they’d take into the game’s final quarter.
The Lions may have taken a loss but both Travis Lulay and Andrew Harris had strong performances in their return to the field. The Lions are now 20-9 when Lulay and Harris are both in the lineup.
With a tight game entering the fourth quarter, the REDBLACKS changed momentum in an instant. Burris went deep to off-season acquisition Greg Ellingson and after the pass was tipped by defensive back Ryan Phillips, Ellingson was able to corral the football from on the ground for the highlight-reel touchdown grab.
That sent a spirited TD Place crowd into a frenzy, as the REDBLACKS regained their lead early in the fourth, 20-16. Burris later added a touchdown pass to former BC Lion Ernest Jackson, giving Ottawa a 27-16 lead with under eight minutes to go.
That turned out to be the final nail in the coffin, as the Ottawa offence continued to produce led by Chevon Walker's 103 yards on 24 carries, while the defence pitched a fourth-quarter shutout to spoil the return of Lulay and Harris to the football field.
The REDBLACKS will face the Edmonton Eskimos on the road July 9 while the Lions will play their home-opener vs. Saskatchewan on July 10 as they search for win number one.