OTTAWA - The Ottawa Redblacks had a perfect record and were cruising in the CFL East when they met the winless Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 5 of the season.
An upset loss in Regina sent the Redblacks plumetting back down to earth. They have gone 3-5 since that defeat and are clinging to top spot in the East by just one point over Hamilton.
Coming into the home stretch of the season, the Redblacks (6-6-1) can ill afford any more hiccups when they host the Roughriders in a rematch Friday night. Saskatchewan (3-10-0) has had its fair share of struggles this season, but will be well rested coming off a bye week and has won its last two games.
"For us to beat anybody in this league we have to put our best foot forward," said Redblacks coach Rick Campbell. "Obviously they've been playing better and won their last couple games. They can play with anybody in this league and we think we can too so we have to make sure we're guns blazing Friday at 7."
The Redblacks will be hoping to build off the positives they found in a 40-33 road loss to the B.C. Lions last week. Quarterback Trevor Harris was solid going 32-for-45 for 485 yards and two touchdowns, though he threw a late interception which ultimately cost Ottawa the game as it was returned for a touchdown.
In addition, the Redblacks are closing in on having their top four receivers, Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli, surpass the 1,000 mark for the second straight season.
Williams leads the team with 1,206 yards, while Ellingson is closing in on the mark at 948, Jackson has compiled 872 yards and Sinopoli has 846.
Offensively the Redblacks are getting things done. The same can't be said defensively.
Ottawa has given up 29 or more points six times this season, ranking them fifth overall in the nine-team league. They're sixth in sacks (30), seventh in interceptions (8), eighth in pass knockdowns (34) and dead last in forced fumbles (7).
Last week was a perfect example of the Redblacks season as a whole. The offence was able to produce, but defence fell short at crucial times.
"It's definitely time for us to be playing our best ball and that's the game plan for this week," said defensive lineman Moton Hopkins. "We have been really inconsistent on all facets of the ball. Sometimes offence will do really well and defence won't or the other way around. It's a team sport though so we know we all know we have to support each other mentally and physically."
Campbell has been preaching the importance of consistency all season long and can only hope things fall into place at the right time.
"It can be frustrating when things kind of go up and down and that's kind of the challenge you have to work through," said Campbell. "We keep talking about that we keep working at it, keep grinding and have to find a way to get it done because there's so much to play for the way the standings are working out this year. We have a great opportunity, but consistency would be a great word that we're looking for.
"We're trying to do less talking and more action and definitely looking forward to (Friday night).
Despite the various difficulties the Redblacks have experienced this season, a win against Saskatchewan would go a long way in the race for first in the East.
"Everything we set out to accomplish as a team is right in front of us," said Harris. "We're just going to keep trusting the process and keep pressing. I think we've made strides from the last three weeks if you look at our games from week-to-week-to week in our last three, four games. We've made strides and I assume you'll see strides continue throughout these next few weeks as well."
Notes: The Redblacks will have few changes this week as RB Travon Van will replace Imoan Claiborne and Jean-Philippe Bolduc takes over for Jake Harty. Harris will be mic'd up for the broadcast Friday night.