It was a triumphant return for Trevor Harris.
After missing nearly a month with a shoulder injury, the veteran quarterback came back to rally Ottawa past the B.C. Lions 30-25 last weekend. Harris helped the Redblacks erase a 19-point deficit to secure the victory, passing for 380 yards and three TDs.
It was the first win in three games for Ottawa (6-9-1), which moved to within a point of the front-running Toronto Argonauts (7-8) in the East Division standings. More importantly, the victory moved the defending Grey Cup champions five points ahead of Hamilton (4-10) with the Tiger-Cats holding two games in hand, including a showdown with the Redblacks on Oct. 27.
But it’s clear the Redblacks have a much different offence with Harris back under centre. In their previous two losses with both Harris and backup Drew Tate ailing, Ryan Lindley was 33-of-67 passing for 315 yards with a TD and two interceptions.
Then again, running back William Powell was there to pick up the slack. He posted three straight 100-yard rushing performances — running for a combined 438 yards on 65 carries (6.7-yard average) — and added 92 yards on 17 carries against B.C.
With Harris back, Ottawa’s offence now becomes much more balanced and therefore more dangerous. Powell is running well and the Redblacks possess a deep and potent receiving corps as Greg Ellingson (seven catches, 149 yards, two TDs) and Diontae Spencer (three catches, 116 yards, one TD) excelled against the Lions.
And that’s the challenge facing the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who host Ottawa on Friday night.
Defensively, the Riders can’t concentrate solely on Harris because of the threat Powell presents. What’s more likely to be their approach is to first try to shut Powell down so Ottawa becomes one-dimensional in its attack.
And while Saskatchewan has managed just 22 sacks this season, Willie Jefferson has eight to stand second overall in the CFL. And defensive back Ed Gainey has a league-best eight interceptions.
However what was most impressive about Saskatchewan’s 27-24 road win over Toronto last Saturday was the play of backup quarterback Brandon Bridge. The native of Mississauga, Ont., replaced starter Kevin Glenn in the second quarter and helped the Riders erase a 13-point deficit to register the victory.
It was a big win for Saskatchewan (8-6), which remains tied with Edmonton (8-6) for third in the West Division standings, four points behind Winnipeg (10-4). Bridge finished 20-of-28 passing for 292 yards and two TDs but Glenn will start against Ottawa.
Saskatchewan is 4-2 at home this year but the Redblacks are a solid 4-4 on the road. Where the Riders hold a big advantage is their 5-1 record versus East Division competition while Ottawa is 2-6-1 against Western rivals.
Calgary Stampeders versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Friday night)
Hamilton is 4-2 under interim head coach June Jones, whose first decision was to promote backup Jeremiah Masoli to starting quarterback ahead of incumbent Zach Collaros. Masoli threw for 338 yards and two TDs while running for 48 yards in the Ticats’ 30-13 road win over Winnipeg. On July 29, Calgary (12-1-1) throttled the Ticats 60-1 and is coming off the bye week following a 59-11 victory over Montreal. The Stamps are 5-1-1 both on the road and against the East Divison this year.
B.C. Lions versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Saturday afternoon)
It seems Winnipeg (10-4) will have starting quarterback Matt Nichols back for this one. He suffered an apparent hand injury last week against Hamilton but practised this week. That’s important because the Bombers can cement a playoff berth with a win. B.C. (6-8) has lost three straight games and six of its last seven. A loss to the Bombers would eliminate the Lions from playoff contention.
Toronto Argonauts versus Edmonton Eskimos (Saturday night)
Edmonton (8-6) snapped a six-game losing streak Monday against Montreal. More importantly, star quarterback Mike Reilly is expected to play after suffering a lower-body injury. One of those losses was a 34-26 decision to Toronto (7-8) as James Wilder Jr. ran for 190 yards and a TD in that game. He left Saturday’s loss to Saskatchewan in the fourth quarter and it’s unclear if he’ll play Saturday.
Last week: 1-3.