Ottawa Redblacks returns to Grey Cup with CFL East Division final win

Nov 18, 2018; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Redblacks running back William Powell (29) celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first half of the 2018 CFL Eastern Conference Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at TD Place Stadium. .
Nov 18, 2018; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Redblacks running back William Powell (29) celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first half of the 2018 CFL Eastern Conference Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at TD Place Stadium. . Marc DesRosiers / USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Harris has the Ottawa Redblacks going to another Grey Cup, with a little help from his friends.

Harris threw a CFL playoff-record six TD passes as Ottawa earned an emphatic 46-27 East Division final win over Hamilton on Sunday afternoon. Harris finished a stellar 29-of-32 passing for 367 yards as the Redblacks captured a fourth straight win this season over the Tiger-Cats.

READ MORE: Trevor Harris leads Redblacks to victory against Tiger-Cats in CFL’s East Final

And Harris used virtually every option in Ottawa’s playbook, completing passes to 10 different receivers.

“As long as it (CFL record) equalled a win,” Harris said. “It was about the team today.

“I know a lot of people give the quarterback credit when things go well but it was about the team. It was working well for us today.”

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More importantly, Ottawa is off to its third Grey Cup in four years and chasing a second win after upsetting Calgary 39-33 in overtime in 2016. The Redblacks will face either the Stampeders or Winnipeg Blue Bombers next Sunday in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Stampeders return to Grey Cup game with 22-14 win over Blue Bombers

Ottawa lost the 2015 Grey Cup game to Edmonton.

With under two minutes remaining, the TD Place sellout of 24,108 began chanting “We want the Cup.”

Harris was sensational against Hamilton this year, completing 99-of-129 passes (76.7 per cent) for 1,203 yards with 10 TDs and no interceptions. And over his last seven starts, Harris has thrown for 2,262 yards with 17 TDs and just two interceptions.

Harris was the CFL’s most accurate passer (70.1 per cent) this season and set career highs in completions (431), attempts (615) and passing yards (5,116). He also had 22 touchdown strikes against 11 interceptions.

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: 2018 Ticats were too inconsistent, injury riddled, to be a serious contender

Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell, a finalist with Saskatchewan’s Chris Harris for the CFL’s coach of the year honour, had praise for Harris. But he was also pleased with the Redblacks’ ability to effectively counter anything Hamilton did in the contest.

“The thing that was good about today was anytime they tried to fight their way back into the game we always had an answer,” he said. “We were living in the moment but always moving on to the next thing, regardless of whether something good or bad happened.

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“Trevor was in the right frame of mind and works to get prepared like he always does. He came up big for us. I’m proud of him and proud of our team.”

READ MORE: Harris leads Ottawa Redblacks past Saskatchewan Roughriders

Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli, the East Division’s outstanding player nominee, completed 28-of-41 passes for 315 yards with a TD and three interceptions. He also ran for a 12-yard TD with 7:56 remaining then hit Bralon Addison on the two-point convert to cut Ottawa’s lead to 46-27.

“Obviously we’ve lost four in a row so they must be just better than us,” said Hamilton coach June Jones. “I really feel if we scored touchdowns instead of kicked field goals it would’ve been a back-and-fourth game all the way to the end.

“It’s disappointing. We thought we were prepared, we felt we had a chance, we felt the stars were kind of aligned for us but you’ve got to make the plays.”

Jones said Hamilton’s defensive gameplan was to pressure Harris but the Ottawa quarterback simply got rid of the ball before the Ticats could get to him.

“We were close but no cigar,” he said.

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: After defeat, Tiger-Cats fans direct anger at CEO Scott Mitchell

Addison had 12 catches for 129 yards, his second straight 100-yard playoff game.

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Harris’s 10-yard TD strike to Marco Dubois put Ottawa ahead 33-13 just 2:27 into the third quarter. It came after Hamilton scored on the final play of the first half to cut the Redblacks’ half-time advantage to 27-13.

Hamilton reduced its deficit to 33-19 on two Lirim Hajrullahu field goals (44, 15) with just over five minutes remaining in the quarter. But Ottawa responded with a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive Harris capped with a 29-yard TD pass to Brendan Gillanders at 13:39 for a 39-19 advantage.

Harris removed all doubt with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ellingson just over a minute into the fourth. Ellingson, the former Ticat who had the game-winning TD grab against Hamilton in the 2015 East final, finished with eight catches for 144 yards and the TD.

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It seemed throughout the game Ottawa’s receivers were continually open. But Ellingson offered a simple reason for that.

“I think when the quarterback puts the ball where it’s supposed to be every single pass it makes us look more open than we might be,” he said. “The offensive line did a great job of protecting and when you that and the run game took with (William) Powell back there, throwing the ball makes it hard on a defence.

“We talked about last week just being balanced. When you have guys in all facets of the offence doing what they’re supposed to be do it makes us dangerous.”

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Powell, the CFL’s second-leading rusher this year with 1,362 yards, ran for 86 yards on 21 carries.

Diontae Spencer, with two, and Jean-Christophe Beaulieu had Ottawa’s other touchdowns. William Powell added a two-point convert while Lewis Ward booted two converts and two field goals but missed from 44 yards out in the fourth to end his streak of 50 straight.

READ MORE: Ottawa Redblacks kicker Lewis Ward having dream CFL rookie campaign

Mike Jones had Hamilton’s touchdown. Hajrullahu kicked four field goals and a convert.

Hamilton cut Ottawa’s half-time lead to 27-13 when Jones reached behind to make the two-yard TD grab. But he did an even better job of not allowing the ball to hit the turf as it came loose while he was going down.

The touchdown was Hamilton’s first against Ottawa in roughly 124 minutes. It came after Jonathan Rose was flagged for unnecessary roughness and ejected for contacting an official with 37 seconds left following a sideline melee after Addison’s six-yard catch.

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When order was restored, Hamilton moved up 30 yards to the Ottawa 15.

Harris staked Ottawa to a 27-6 advantage with three TD strikes in the quarter, two being set up by interceptions.

Harris found Spencer on a 22-yard touchdown pass at 8:08 before Powell ran in the two-point convert to put Ottawa ahead 14-6. It came a play after Anthony Cioffi’s interception.

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Harris then found Beaulieu on a one-yard touchdown pass at 13:09 but the two-point convert was unsuccessful. The play after Rose’s 59-yard interception return, Harris hit Spencer with a nine-yard TD strike at 13:53 to put Ottawa up 27-6.