Sunday, June 16, 2024

Without most starters, Redblacks win pre-season opener in Hamilton

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Redblacks 31, Tiger-Cats 22

After being limited to just two games last season by a shoulder injury, the Ottawa Redblacks’ most explosive player has had a quiet training camp, watching much of it from the sidelines while dealing with a minor, lower-body problem.

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On Saturday in Hamilton, however, DeVonte Dedmon loudly slammed his calling card on the table and emphatically reminded everyone just how dangerous he could be.

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Dedmon helped set up one touchdown and scored another on an electric, 91-yard punt return as the Redblacks defeated the Tiger-Cats 31-22 in their Canadian Football League pre-season opener at Tim Hortons Field.

“I almost cried when I got into the end zone … It’s been a long time,” Dedmon told TSN1200’s A.J. Jakubec after the game. “Last year was tough on me mentally. My guys were here for me all season long, even though I wasn’t playing, just pushing me to be great off the field.

“The first (kickoff) I muffed a little bit, but I’m mentally ready for this. I’m excited just to get started with the guys again.”

Ottawa left most of its starters at home, with 42 of the 63 players making the trip having never played in a CFL game.

The Tiger-Cats basically went with their “A” squad.

“Saw some good things and some bad … a lot of stuff we’re going to clean up,” Redblacks head coach Bob Dyce told Jakubec. “I think offensively we started a little bit slow slower than we would have liked, but new offence, new co-ordinator. What I did like is in the second half we started clicking. All three phases we did some some good things. Long way to go, but there were certainly some some flashes.”

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In his debut as the Redblacks’ No. 1 quarterback, Dru Brown played just the first three offensive series, completing four of six passes for 26 yards.

Dustin Crum, last year’s starter by default because of injuries to others, had the bulk of the work behind centre and performed well. He completed 10 of 16 throws for 108 yards, throwing one 10-yard TD pass to rookie Jon’Vea Johnson.

“I was happy with both of them,” Dyce said of his quarterbacks. “Young group in front of them and I think they made some good decisions. We just weren’t able to connect on some things. Dusty did a good job when he came out in the second half … He needed a little bit of extra time in the first half to adjust … and I was happy with Dru with regards to his reads and stuff like that. I thought he ran the offence well. There’s just a few things that happened that we weren’t successful on first down which really put them in a situation where we’re looking for long yardage on second down, and that’s tough on anybody.”

Dru Brown Ottawa Redblacks
Redblacks quarterback Dru Brown walks off the field after a first-quarter drive during Saturday’s pre-season game against the Tiger-Cats. Photo by Peter Power /The Canadian Press

As he mentioned, Dedmon showed some rust when he fumbled the opening kickoff out of bounds immediately after catching it.  He found some daylight on his next kick return, though, taking it 37 yards.

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That gain, along with a Tiger-Cats penalty for too many men on the field and a pass interference infraction against Mark Milton as he defended against Ottawa’s Khalil Pimpleton, set the Redblacks up for their first touchdown: a four-yard run through the right side by Ryquel Armstead.

Dedmon left nothing on the plate for anyone else with a little more than a minute left in the first quarter, taking a punt up the middle in a dash to the house that was 19 yards shy of covering the entire field.

“I felt strong coming through the hole. Coach Dyce called it a perfect play,” Dedmon said. “We ran a return that I’m very comfortable with. Saw a hole, hit as hard as I could, made the kicker miss and just saw grass. I could have cried at midfield.”

Besides his score, Armstead carried seven times for just 18 yards and two receptions for 15 yards as the starting running back.

More impressive in the battle to replace Devonte Williams, who’s sidelined because of an Achilles’ tendon injury, was Kylin Hill, who had five runs for 33 yards and one catch for nine yards.

Ronnie Brown was also decent with six runs for 31 yards.

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With all their top receivers back in Ottawa, Johnson was the Redblacks’ top pass catcher on Saturday with seven grabs for 54 yards

Former Carleton Raven Keaton Bruggeling had two catches for 23 yards — including a determined run after one grab to set up Johnson’s TD — while rookie Americans Pimpleton and Andre Miller both had two receptions for 18 yards.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s defence allowed the home team to get into the end zone just twice.

Hamilton quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell played most of the first half, completing 10 of 16 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown on a 35-yard bomb to Shemar Bridges, who beat rookie Jordan Jones down the sideline.

The other Tiger-Cats major was a Kevin Thomson to Dev Holmes hook-up in the fourth quarter that covered 22 yards.

What the Redblacks are probably most happy about is the offence didn’t throw an interception or fumble the ball.

The defence created one turnover when Jamare Edwards forced Hamilton QB Taylor Powell to fumble and Jermaine McDaniel was there for the recovery.

That change of possession led to Crum’s touchdown.

“It’s awesome to celebrate, especially after coming out of a two-week camp … Across the CFL it’s a grind,” said Redblacks defensive back Lucas Cormier, who had a strong game with three defensive tackles and one special-teams tackle. “I feel pretty solid about how I did, there’s definitely some mistakes I’ve got to clean up, but I feel like I went out there and I competed. Like I said, it’s awesome to go and compete with my brothers that I’ve gotten to know over the last couple of weeks, and it’s an awesome feeling to get that win.”

The Redblacks conclude their pre-season schedule when they play host to the defending Grey Cup-champion Montreal Alouettes on Friday at 7 p.m.

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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