OTTAWA — Henry Burris and Greg Ellingson ended their former team’s Grey Cup aspirations and sent Ottawa to its first CFL championship appearance since 1981.
Burris’s 93-yard TD strike to Ellingson with just over a minute remaining rallied Ottawa to a stirring 35-28 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division final Sunday afternoon. Burris and Ellingson were both teammates in Steeltown in 2013. Burris joined the Redblacks as a free agent before the 2014 season and Ellingson followed suit prior to the 2015 campaign.
“Wow, wow. It was way too dramatic as far as the ending,” Burris said. “I thought I didn’t throw the ball well especially trying to deal with the wind but we did enough.
“I tip my hat off to Greg. If you could write a script for a story and an ending for a book … to have a chance to go against his old team and drive the dagger home, you can’t beat that moment.”
The play almost ended before it started as Burris bobbled a high snap. He threw to Ellingson, who made the catch with Hamilton defender Ed Gainey falling on the play.
Then after shedding Emmanuel Davis’s attempted tackle, Ellingson streaked untouched into the end zone. His TD came with Ottawa facing a second-and-25 situation after Hamilton defensive lineman Arnaud Gascon-Nadon dropped a seemingly easy interception and the Redblacks were penalized for a chop block, putting them on their 18-yard line.
“It’s nice to play against my old team but it’s more about going to the Grey Cup and winning it,” Ellingson said. “It’s just a play we’ve done before, I think we’ve completed that ball three or four times this year. It’s a ball that’s thrown outside to the receiver and you try to get the guys to go up and make the play.”
Burris, the East nominee for the CFL’s outstanding player award, finished 17-of-32 passing for 326 yards and the TD while running six times for 29 yards and a touchdown. Ellingson had five receptions for a game-high 186 yards.
The win, before a boisterous TD Place sellout of 25,093, earned Ottawa its first Grey Cup berth since the former Rough Riders lost in the ‘81 final to Edmonton.
The Redblacks will face either the Edmonton Eskimos or Calgary Stampeders in the CFL title game next weekend in Winnipeg.
Ottawa will represent the East Division in the CFL championship contest after posting just two wins in its inaugural 2014 season.
“I know it’s a big deal and I have a lot of respect for it,” Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said. “We’ll be happy for a few more hours and tee it up one more time. Then after that game we can discuss more things about Ottawa football history.”
Campbell was just 10 years old when Ottawa last appeared in the Grey Cup, losing 26-23 to an Edmonton squad coached by his father, Hugh.
Hamilton created some anxious moments for Ottawa when Jeremiah Masoli, making just his second career playoff start, hit Luke Tasker on a 22-yard scoring strike with 1:34 remaining. Justin Medlock’s convert tied it 28-28.
“They made a play at the end,” said Hamilton coach/GM Kent Austin. “I really thought second and 25 we’d get them off the field, have great field position and we’d go out there and kick the field goal and get into the Cup.
“We had plenty of opportunities to win the football game. We had them beat a couple different times, the difference is we didn’t make the plays, plays that were there.”
Hamilton (10-8) finished tied with Toronto for second but got the higher positioning after winning that season series.
The Ticats dispatched the Argos 25-22 in the East Division semifinal last weekend.
Masoli got his second straight playoff start with incumbent Zach Collaros (knee) and backup Jeff Mathews (concussion) sidelined.
Masoli, who began the season fourth on Hamilton’s depth chart, was much sharper against Ottawa than he was in last weekend’s victory over Toronto. The former Oregon Duck was 30-of-42 passing for 349 yards with two TDs and an interception. Tiquan Underwood had four catches for a team-high 111 yards and a TD.
“What you saw with Jeremiah is what we’ve seen in him and why we wanted to keep him,” Austin said. “He has grown immensely through his experiences … he played well enough for us to win.
“That speaks volumes about the young man.”
Will Powell had Ottawa’s other touchdown. Milo added the converts and four field goals with the other points coming on a safety.
Medlock booted three converts, two field goals and a single.
Milo’s 39-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter earned Ottawa a 19-17 half-time lead. After Medlock surrendered the safety, Chris Williams took the return 36 yards to the Hamilton 46-yard line with 29 seconds remaining. Burris had completions of one yard to Brad Sinopoli and 12 yards to Earnest Jackson to set up Milo’s boot.
“Another key I think was giving up five points at the end of the first half,” Austin said. “That hurt us.”