BOOS TO CHEERS: Ottawa Redblacks hope to ignite home crowd Friday against Elks

« The fans can be happy, they can shout at the referees, they can boo. That’s the passion. We have to step up and give our fans something to cheer for. »

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Players and coaches heard the boos.

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Last home game, the game before… in fact, at several Ottawa Redblacks home games since 2019, there have been fans at TD Place who have let the team know that this was happening was not acceptable. Losing football matches is frustrating; it eats the players. But they also know that with success, the cheers come. The Rouge et Noir are looking to build momentum starting with Friday night’s home game with the Edmonton Elks.

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« Fans are human beings, they have emotions, » Redblacks linebacker/defensive back Patrick Levels said. “They are passionate about the Ottawa Redblacks. So if we don’t operate as they expect, you might hear something you don’t want to hear. The fans can be happy, they can shout at the referees, they can boo. It’s the passion. We need to step up and give our audience something to cheer on. We have to take responsibility as players and as an organization to make sure the crowd is shouting for us. We get paid to put a great product in the field every week. If the fans weren’t expecting more from us, they wouldn’t be booing.

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« Our fans are outstanding, » Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice said. “They are on our side, but they are disappointed. This is going to happen when you have trouble moving the ball consistently.

Even with a 1-7 record, the season is not lost. The East Division is always highly sought after. First-place Toronto has four wins, while Hamilton and Montreal are tied for second with three wins each. After finishing a two-game series with Edmonton next week on the road, the Redblacks have three straight games against Eastern teams. After a game in British Columbia, the Rouge et Noir ended the regular season with four more games in the East.

« (A playoff position in) the East is totally achievable, » Levels said. « Nobody jumped ahead with a lot of wins, it’s tight. We’re not looking for someone else to lose games, we’re just looking to win games. We want to approach it like, ‘Hey, we still have a chance.’ We are halfway (into the season), we still have a chance to control our destiny. It’s a team effort and as a team we didn’t make it. We work to fix the little things that will push us to the top.

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Offensive lineman Ucambre Williams signed with the Redblacks as a free agent after six successful seasons in Calgary. While he was there, the Stampeders played in three Gray Cups (won Ottawa in 2018) and had a regular season record of 61 losses, 23 losses and two ties. But with the good comes the bad. It’s about balancing the emotions and not going too high or too low.

« Losing sucks. I’ve been on teams that have struggled, » Williams said. « I’ll say this, the attitude here – we stay positive. I know losing can bring a cloud over organization. But we can see the light. In any job or business, you want to be successful. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s football, it’s life. We’ve won a lot of games in Calgary , but we had our ups and downs. You deal with it, wake up the next morning and go back to playing.

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While the Elks have just two wins, both have faced opponents in the East – Montreal and Hamilton – and both have been on the road. If you’re the Redblacks, it’s not like you can take anyone lightly anyway.

« I think every game is winnable, » LaPolice said. “You look at (the Elks) against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and league MVP (QB Zach Collaros) had seven successful passes. They have a talented receiving corps and a quarterback (Taylor Cornelius) that gets better with every start. I don’t care about their record; we have to perform and put ourselves in a position to win a football match.

« We’re 1-7 and feel like we can go out and beat anybody, » Levels said. “But it’s about going out and doing it. We are fighting, (Edmonton) is fighting. The two dogs are in the corner, it’s who wants the most. The only way to find out is to play on Friday and see who gets the win. We’ve had a lot of free time, it’s time to go out and play.

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CALEB RECEIVES THE CALL: On Wednesday, Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice said Caleb Evans would be his team’s starting QB. Evans struggled in the Redblacks’ last game – a 17-3 loss to Calgary two weeks ago, followed by a bye week – but he was terrific the week before in a win over Toronto. LaPolice said: “The previous two games Caleb played – one of them he was one of the best players in the CFL, the previous one we had 30 first downs and moved the ball. The Calgary game, if you watch the tape, it’s not all about Caleb. We have to play better offensively around him. After evaluation and what Caleb had done, he should be the starter. Says Evans: “There are always things you want to do better. The movie isn’t always as bad as it looks and not always as good as it looks. It was just (a combination of things) – I screwed up and there was a misunderstanding, things like that. It’s a trickle down effect. It just didn’t click.

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THE END AROUND: Former Redblacks offensive lineman Mark Korte will move to center for the Elks to replace David Beard (illness)… With RB William Powell (knee) on the six-game injured list, Devonte Williams enters the starting lineup Redblacks. Says Williams: “You always prepare yourself mentally and physically. An opportunity is a blessing, it’s a phenomenal thing. We’re just trying to win…we have to win at home. Our mindset is that we treat every game as if it were a playoff game and we need to get a win to get where we want to be at the end of the year. … OL Jacob Ruby will play their first game against the Elks — their team from 2017-21. Ruby said: “There are so many new faces. I know maybe two people in this team, it is extremely new and different. … Safety Justin Howell returns for the Redblacks. WR Tevaun Smith is listed as a replacement for Shaq Johnson. LB Patrick Nelson is also in the lineup. Out of the lineup: DB Money Hunter, LB Adam Auclair and WR Keaton Bruggeling.

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