LAYING THE SMACK DOWN: Redblacks hoping to tame the Ticats in Battle of the 0 and 4s


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HAMILTON – The sights and sounds will be familiar for receiver Jaelon Acklin, who promises to speak a little friendly when his Ottawa Redblacks take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday.

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Acklin is among four Redblacks – including offensive lineman Darius Ciraco, running back Jackson Bennett and defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin IV – who have been courted away from The Hammer as free agents by general manager Shawn Burke, co-general manager at Hamilton before getting the Ottawa job in December. Burke also landed former Ticats QB Jeremiah Masoli, who underwent surgery Thursday to repair an injured leg.

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There’s nothing dramatic about returning to Hamilton; there are more important things to worry about. With an agonizing 0-4 start to the season for both teams, the business at hand is to win a game of football.

« Really, it’s just another game, it doesn’t have any added significance, » Acklin said. “There are no hard feelings. I don’t think (the Ticats) gave up on me; if they did, I would say they were stupid. Maybe they thought they couldn’t pay me, that I wasn’t worth it, but I don’t blame them. I’m not going to waste too much energy on it; this is not a revenge game to show that i am worth the money. I look in the mirror every night; I know I have to be better if we want to win. And whatever it takes to win, I will.

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« Am I going to talk snap? Probably. (Ticats Safety) Tunde (Adeleke) was my roommate. Tunde is a good player, but he also knows who I am. If I get the chance to block him or catch a ball from him or if he tackles me, I’m going to talk to him for a bit.

Ciraco grew up in nearby Burlington, although he had mixed CFL allegiances as a child, playing minor football for the Burlington Stampeders.

« Wearing red and white, I kinda cheered for that, » he said. “But I went to games at Ivor Wynne (Stadium). So there was a bit of a Ticat fan in me.

Attribute the early stumbles of the Redblacks and Ticats to bad luck, bad timing…and, probably most importantly, big mistakes. Both could/should have at least two wins. That’s not how it works. The goal is to figure out where you went wrong and fix it. But both teams also try to be in the moment, without dwelling on the past.

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« I spend all my time making sure our players are improving from every previous game, » Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice said. “Whether you win or lose (the previous week), it’s a fresh start. (Our players) are focused, they are prepared. Now they just have to finish it with a win and get the two points we want.

« I don’t think (what happened) is a burden, it’s just a realization that everyone needs to do a little bit more, » Bennett said. « That’s how you win games. It’s kind of a general rule in life – it’s always the little things that dictate things. And that’s especially true on the football pitch – footwork, hand placement, just knowing where to go. Our goal is to win on Saturday; to do that, we have to fine-tune the details and focus. Right now we are a 0-0 team; we’re just focused on what we need to do on Saturday to win.

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With Masoli injured, Caleb Evans starts at QB – on his 24th birthday. Starting CFL games is nothing new for him; he has played a lot for the Rouge et Noir in 2021. It will be very different from a week ago when he had to come into the game in the second half of the fourth quarter.

« That dynamic of coming into the game in the fourth quarter is not easy, it’s tricky; the situation has probably gotten away from you, so you can’t play fair, » said the quarterbacks coach of the Redblacks Will Arndt, who started some games for Ottawa in 2019. « You go in there and do unusual things and then you come back and watch the movie and think, ‘Why was I doing that?’ The good thing for (Evans) is that he has a full week of preparation and you feel a lot better before the game with that.

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« We feel really good in this dressing room and there’s a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. We’re close, even if our record doesn’t reflect that. I’m sick of moral victories, we know who we are and we have good faith in this – we are going to do just fine.

When asked what a win would bring to his team, Ticats coach Orlando Steinauer replied, “Make us 1-4. You can’t win two until you win one. There’s a lot of hard work and execution that needs to happen before we look forward to this.

As the Redblacks were beaten last week in Regina, the Ticats took a deep breath and refocused.

« Personally, I needed it because of football, but I also became a dad a month ago, » Ticats quarterback Dane Evans said. « Last week I went into full dad mode. Changing all the nappies I could, warming all the bottles I could; which puts it all in perspective. You come home and (daughter) Ivey cracks a smile or make a weird baby noise and everything else just doesn’t matter. We went to a little Airbnb just down the street and had a great time. It felt like the perfect time to escape, but also in the end I was ready to come back and get to work.

THE END AROUND: Some big names missing from Saturday’s game. For Ottawa, LB/DB Patrick Levels remains absent. Also absent: OL Randy Richards (six-game injured list) and RB Brendan Gillanders (on the single match). For the Ticats, LB Simoni Lawrence and WR Papi White are on the six-game disabled list. Former Redblacks first-round pick Alex Fontana returns from the injured list to play center.

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