SPORTS

Redblacks see positives despite 16 losses in first season back in Ottawa

11/07/2014 11:20 EST | Updated 01/07/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Ottawa's first season back in the CFL ended with a 16th loss Friday night, leaving Redblacks coach Rick Campbell gritting his teeth but still seeing positives.

"It's tough," he said after a 23-5 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts. "I don't like losing."

"I think there's the potential for a good football team sitting in that (locker) room. We're not a good football team yet," he added. "Our effort and our attitude's not an issue. We just need to become a better football team that can make more plays to win football games."

Despite their 2-16 record — Ottawa defeated Toronto 18-17 on July 17 and Winnipeg 42-20 on Oct. 3, both at home — the Redblacks often pushed back.

They led at some point in 12 of the 18 games and 10 contests were not decided until the final three minutes.

Campbell reckons the Redblacks could have won six or seven games had they been able to close the deal. But despite the record, he sees progress given there were just six players and no coaches when he got hired.

"So it was going to be a battle. But it's been a fun battle. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," Campbell said. "I'm going to be a better coach after this season, just going through this whole experience. I truly feel fortunate to be part of this whole situation because there's going to be bright days ahead and there's a lot of reasons to like the Redblacks."

On Friday, there were plenty of holes, however. The Ottawa tackling was abysmal and Argonaut receivers were allowed to operate in acres of space.

The Redblacks offence was spotty.

Ottawa managed just three first downs (to Toronto's 16) and 53 yards net offence in the first half before finding a higher gear in the second half. Ten of Toronto's 20 first-half points followed interceptions of Redblacks passes, with Henry Burris and backup Danny O'Brien splitting quarterback duties.

Ultimately the fourth quarter proved to be the Redblacks' Achilles heel this season. They were outscored in the final quarter in 12 of the 18 games (Friday's fourth quarter was a 3-3 tie although Ottawa won the second half 5-3).

Overall Ottawa was outscored 146-51 in the final quarter. The Redblacks did not score more than seven points in any fourth quarter this year while allowing 10 points or more eight times in the final 15 minutes.

The third quarter wasn't much better. Ottawa managed just 53 points all seasons.

The lack of late scoring explains why Ottawa was 0-11 when trailing at the half and 0-13 when trailing after three quarters.

Ottawa didn't help itself, ranking worst in the league in giveaways and third worst in takeaways going into the season finale.

"We've got to understand that a lot of the things that we did were all self-inflicted," said Burris, citing the need to be more consistent on offence.

Campbell said the off-season challenge is to review the team's playbook, ensure the current players come back better versions of themselves and add more talent.

"I think we have a core group here ... we need to add to this young football team and have a few more guys that can make plays."

Receiver Kahlil Paden showed his playmaking skills in the fourth quarter, hauling in an O'Brien pass for a season-high 77 yards.

While the Redblacks went 0-9 on the road, they were a hit at home with all nine crowds in excess of 24,000.

"I think we have a fantastic situation in Ottawa, with the fans, the facilities, the owners," said Campbell. "We're a united front. We all believe in this thing. The losing is tough now but we'll continue to work at this thing and we'll become a better football team."

Said Burris: "The fans have been amazing. The patience that they've shown, the support that they've shown is unlike any other. I'm just thankful to be a part of it. It's an honour."

The Redblacks join the 1988 Ottawa Rough Riders and the 1997 Hamilton Tiger-Cats as teams that ended the season with 16 losses.

"It is what it is as far as this season (goes)," said the 39-year-old Burris. "We didn't end it on the note that we wanted to but now we have the blueprint for what it's going to take as far as how to get it done."

"We're going to make this thing work," he added.

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