TORONTO – The Argonauts will look to extend their current winning streak to three consecutive games on Sunday as they welcome the upstart Ottawa REDBLACKS into the Rogers Centre for a highly anticipated inter-division showdown.
Sunday’s matinee affair will mark the first of three meetings between the Argos and REDBLACKS in 2015.
The Boatmen have overcome a plethora of injuries en route to an impressive, and somewhat surprising, 5-2 start. Last Friday, in Winnipeg, the Argonauts earned a hard-fought 27-20 victory over an ailing Blue Bombers squad. True to form, the Argos saved their best for last, outscoring Winnipeg 13-3 in the fourth quarter, tallying their third road win of the season.
Rookie defensive back A.J. Jefferson was the catalyst for the Argonauts’ 13-point fourth-quarter outburst, as the 27-year-old Bakersfield, California native quieted the Blue Bomber faithful with an electrifying 69-yard punt return touchdown.
However, despite Jefferson’s dramatic late-game heroics, the night belonged to none other than running back Chad Kackert. Playing in his first CFL game since 2013, Kackert, 28, rushed for 73 yards on 12 carries, and added one reception for 16 yards.
It didn’t take very long for Kackert to regain his footing. He was physical and explosive, dynamic and elusive, all while revitalizing an anemic Argo rushing attack. With Brandon Whitaker nearing a return to the Argonauts’ lineup, head coach Scott Milanovich, who applauded Kackert following his outstanding 2015 debut, will have a difficult decision to make as it pertains to the running back position.
The Boatmen received some positive news on the injury front this week. Kicker Swayze Waters, who has been sidelined for six weeks after sustaining a leg injury in the Argos’ season-opening victory over the Edmonton Eskimos, will make his return to the lineup on Sunday afternoon at the Rogers Centre.
Waters’ return likely spells the end of Ronnie Pfeffer’s tenure as a member of the Double Blue. The 23-year-old Laurier Golden Hawks product connected on 12 of his 16 field goal attempts (75%), and was 11-for-13 (85%) on PAT conversions.
“He was outstanding,” commented Milanovich following Tuesday’s practice. “I mean I was concerned about it until that first week. You have a rookie kicker doing all three (kickoff, punting, field goals) and it was almost like, after he hit that 50-yarder against Saskatchewan, his first kick, everybody just kind of believed in him. He earned his stripes that day, and honestly, (I) haven’t thought twice about it since, but (I’m) happy for him, proud of him…”
During his six-game sabbatical, Waters served as a mentor for Pfeffer, fielding questions from the rookie while teaching him some useful tricks of the trade.
“Yeah, it’s fun. Ronnie’s a good kid,” said Waters. “He’s done really well for us and for himself also… It was fun watching him. He asked a lot of questions and hopefully I was able to help him out.”
After missing last week’s game against the Bombers due to a rib injury, rookie wide receiver Kevin Elliott will make his return to the Argos’ starting lineup on Sunday against the REDBLACKS. In addition, tackling machine and special teams extraordinaire Cory Greenwood will also return to the gridiron following a two-game absence, re-entering the fold at his familiar weak side linebacker position.
Slotback Chad Owens, meanwhile, will be sidelined for at least one more week after suffering an ankle injury on August 3 in Hamilton. His replacement, Diontae Spencer, has performed admirably in his absence, recording 10 receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
As for the REDBLACKS, Rick Campbell’s squad will look to get back on track following a disheartening 48-3 walloping at the hands of the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders.
At 4-3, the REDBLACKS currently sit in third place in the Eastern Division, just one game back of the Argonauts and Tabbies. Make no mistake about it, this is a much-improved REDBLACKS squad, a team that has made massive strides since returning to the CFL last season.
“I look at them as a three-phase team… We have a ton of respect for them,” stated Milanovich. “They’ve had a good season. They’ve got a ton of talented players and they’re a completely different team than they were a year ago. (They have) a Hall of Fame quarterback, new skill guys on offence, play great defence, so we’ll have to be at our best to win the game. I expect us to be at our best.”
Ottawa has already surpassed their win total from 2014 and now has their sights set on a berth in the post-season. Equipped with a multi-faceted receiving core, 40-year-old signal caller Henry Burris has enjoyed a productive start to his 2015 campaign. The 15-year CFL veteran ranks fourth in the CFL in passing yards (1,809) and boasts a passer efficiency rating of 90.4.
The addition of Jason Maas to the REDBLACKS’ coaching staff has injected new life into Ottawa’s offence. Maas, the team’s offensive coordinator, has done a masterful job of employing an offensive system that is conducive to his playmakers’ skill sets.
REDBLACKS receiver Chris Williams, formerly of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, currently ranks fourth in the CFL in receiving yards with 432.
The Argonauts’ secondary will have its hands full as they match up against one of the most explosive receiving cores in the CFL.
Not only will the Argos’ secondary have to account for Williams and his big-play ability, but they’ll also be pitted with the responsibility of containing Brad Sinopoli, one of the CFL’s premier possession receivers.
Simply put, the 27-year-old University of Ottawa product is a game-changer. He is Henry Burris’ security blanket, a primary checkdown option on virtually every single play.
Defensively, the REDBLACKS possess one of the CFL’s most potent pass-rushing duos in Justin Capicciotti and Keith Shologan. Ottawa’s cerebral interior pass-rushing tandem have combined for five sacks in 2015.
When functioning as a cohesive unit, the Argos’ offensive line operates like a well-oiled machine, practically dictating the pace of the game. The hogs on the offensive front will be counted upon to keep Trevor Harris upright and generate penetration along the line of scrimmage in order to open up running lanes for the Argonauts’ rushing attack.
The Double Blue haven’t started a season with a 6-2 record since 1997. On Sunday afternoon, at the Rogers Centre, the Boatmen will have an opportunity to rewrite history and continue their ascent towards the top of the Eastern Division.
Can the Argonauts extend their winning streak to three consecutive games, or will the REDBLACKS get back on track with a victory over their provincial foes?
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST. The game can be viewed live on TSN or heard on TSN 1050 Radio.
We invite you to join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtags, #ArgosLive and #OURTeam.
2014 CFL MOP nominee Ricky Ray has been re-added to the Argonauts’ six-game injured list, head coach Scott Milanovich announced on Tuesday.
Argonauts signal caller Trevor Harris currently leads the CFL in completion percentage (75%), touchdown passes (16) and passer efficiency rating (116.4).
The last time the Argos played the REDBLACKS, Harris completed 26 of his 36 pass attempts for 281 yards and two touchdowns, guiding the Boatmen to a 23-5 victory in his first career CFL start.
Rookie wide receiver Vidal Hazelton ranks first in the CFL in receptions with 34.
Middle linebacker Greg Jones registered seven tackles in last week’s victory over the Blue Bombers, increasing his season total to 44, good for second amongst all defensive players.
Defensive end Ricky Foley has tallied a team-high four quarterback sacks. The 11-year CFL veteran has recorded a sack in three consecutive games.
In the Argos’ two meetings with Ottawa last season, defensive lineman Tristan Okpalaugo notched nine tackles, four sacks and one interception.
The Argonauts have outscored their opponents 75-25 in the fourth quarter.