HYPED TO PLAY AT HOME: It’s time for Redblacks to deliver to TD Place

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Losing home football games hits Brendan Gillanders hard.

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As a star running back for the Cumberland Panthers and then with the uOttawa Gee-Gees, Gillanders played much of his football in the nation’s capital. So he has a good idea of ​​all things football in Ottawa and understands what the Redblacks mean to their fans. It makes what’s been happening over the past three years so frustrating for Gillanders, who since signing with the Redblacks as a free agent in 2016 has appeared in two Gray Cups – winning in 2016 and losing in 2018. He’s seen a lot of good and some bad; too many of these lows have come in the past three seasons. Ottawa is 9-35 since 2019. Most concerning, however, is that the team has also been abysmal at home. The statistics are staggering: 20 defeats in their last 21 meetings at TD Place.

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So why the misfortunes of the house? Why all the losses?

“Honestly, I wish I had an answer,” Gillanders said. “I can tell you the guys are looking forward to playing at home. We love playing here, we love our fans, we love all the interactions before and after the game. You can trust me when I say we are as frustrated as our fans; we want to be able to win football matches for them. They deserve it with the way they have stayed with us this season and the last two years.

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In 2017, the Rouge et Noir had a horrible 1-6-1 start to the season. A solid finish – winning their last three games – propelled them into the playoffs. This season, the Rougenoirs are ahead of first-place Argos by four wins, second-place Montreal by two wins and third-place Hamilton by one. It’s possible that a crossover team from the West (Saskatchewan sits in fourth place with six wins) could also fight their way into the Eastern playoffs. How do the Redblacks suddenly turn their defeats into something that pushes them back into a playoff battle?

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“It’s up to us to get a good start and not have to come out of a hole late in these home games,” Gillanders said. “It was tight at the end, but the reality of the situation is that we’re not paid to be close, we’re paid to win. Close isn’t good enough anymore as we go down the stretch. Our fans want that we were winning, we want to win. Hopefully we can put it together.

One way or another, there is still a silver lining in the playoffs. With six games left in their regular season, the Rouge et Noir, with a 3-9 record, must probably win at least five. He is due to start on Saturday at home against Toronto. That’s a lot of pressure packed into a short time. But it’s a position the Redblacks have put themselves in.

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“It’s a mental challenge, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Gillanders said. “In all honesty, seasons like this are much more difficult mentally than physically. As one of the more experienced players in the team, I have a bit more responsibility and leadership than when I I was younger. We have to turn some of those tight games into wins – that’s what we get paid for.

With the Gee-Gees, Gillanders was a three-time OUA All-Star. He played his first two CFL seasons in Toronto before joining his hometown team. Although he was used as a running back with the Redblacks — he has 32 catches (240 yards) and 60 carries (271 yards) — his most important role has been on special teams (he has 42 tackles since he joined in Ottawa) and as a locker room manager.

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“Playing my whole career in the East, you see how it always seems to come down to the end of the season,” Gillanders said. “You never want to panic and you never want to get too high. Eighteen games is a long season, it’s a roller coaster ride. The reality of where we are is that our destiny is in our hands. The only way out is to win games. Everything is in our hands. We can’t count on anyone else in the East and we can’t count on anyone in the West to start beating the teams in the East. Everything we want and the place we want to finish at the end of the season is still ahead of us. We have to finish the games, we have to win.

Hurry up. The latest six-game streak begins against a team that Ottawa beat 23-13 in Toronto and then lost 24-19 nearly two weeks ago at TD Place. After that, Ottawa plays in British Columbia, finishing with back-to-back games against Montreal and Hamilton.

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“Every game is important,” Gillanders said. “If we want to be able to control our own destiny, we have to win these games – that’s it. The guys understand that. Not looking beyond this game, but we have to win every game and deal with every week of the same way. This week, our opponent is Toronto — and we have to win.

THE END AROUND: The Rougenoirs have added a few players to their training roster. Receiver Savon Scarver (Utah State) and defensive lineman Jake Hlava (Grand Valley State) joined the team… Ottawa’s OL Randy Richards (calf) is out for Saturday’s game, while the OL Darius Ciraco (hip) is questionable. Argos DL Ja’Gared Davis (knee) trained after two days off the pitch and is listed as questionable, while LB Henoc Muamba (abdomen) will play.

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