Brett Maher’s 23-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining earned the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks a historic 18-17 home win over the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night.
Maher’s boot, his sixth of the game, came after Swayze Waters connected from 46 yards out to put Toronto ahead 17-15 with 1:33 remaining. It looked like the Argos (1-3) would spoil the party for a TD Place Stadium sellout of 24,000, which included Prime Minister Stephen Harper and explained the presence of sharpshooters on the opposite roofs of the facility.
But Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris calmly moved the RedBlacks (1-2) downfield to set up Maher’s game-winning boot in what was anything but just another football game. It marked marked the first time since November 2005 that Ottawa had hosted a CFL regular-season game and the city hasn’t celebrated a Grey Cup championship since 1976.
And there certainly was a party atmosphere in the air, with many fans standing and grooving to the tunes during timeouts. The RedBlacks’ home opener was much anticipated in the Canadian capital, with supporters proudly sporting their colours this week and turning out in droves for the various pre-game festivities and pep rallies.
Thousands entered TD Place Stadium three hours before the start of the contest to participate in the tailgating. And once fans were allowed to settle into their seats, those on the south side of the stadium resumed the longstanding tradition of chanting “North Side Sucks.” However, the entire gathering — most of which was clad in red — was on its feet as one, loudly cheering the RedBlacks as they took to the field for the pre-game introductions.
And although both offences were inconsistent for much of the night, the Ottawa faithful saw an entertaining finish as Maher’s 48-yard field goal at 9:53 of the fourth put the RedBlacks ahead 15-14 after Toronto took a 14-12 advantage on Ricky Ray’s 20-yard TD strike to Darvin Adams just 43 seconds into the quarter.
That was Toronto’s first TD in eight quarters, dating back to the fourth quarter of its 48-15 home win over Saskatchewan on July 5. The Argos were minus veterans Chad Owens (foot), Andre Durie (clavicle) and Jason Barnes (knee), their top three receivers.
The RedBlacks also became the first Ottawa team to start off with a home regular-season victory.
Burris also improved to 18-11 in career head-to-head matchups versus Ray, who suffered his first loss in six career games against Ottawa. Burris improved to 12-13 all-time versus Toronto.
Waters booted two field goals, a single and convert.
Maher’s 23-yard field goal at 14:56 of the second quarter earned Ottawa a 9-7 lead in a lacklustre opening half offensively as the kickers accounted for all the scoring. Both offences came close to TDs as Ray underthrew a wide-open John Chiles in the endzone in the first before a streaking Kierrie Johnson got behind Toronto’s secondary but had Burris’s nicely thrown pass go off his outstretched hands.
But both offences lacked consistency and finish as Burris , who got little help from his offensive line, was 7-of-12 passing for 75 yards and Ray completed 9-of-16 attempts for 127 yards, but 45 yards came on one completion.
For the second time this year, Toronto was victimized by a fake punt that went for a first down. Maher scampered 15 yards on third-and-10 to keep a drive alive in the second that he ultimately capped with a 29-yard field goal at 6:24 to put Ottawa ahead 6-3.