OTTAWA — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats seem to have the momentum heading into a crucial two-game showdown with Ottawa, but Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris has a gut feeling that his team is ready to step up after a couple of weeks of uninspired football.
The Redblacks host the Tiger-Cats Friday night in the first of a home-and-home series that will likely determine first place in the East. Both teams have identical records (8-7) and have clinched a playoff spot, but the two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions with Ottawa losing its last two and Hamilton winning two straight.
Despite the recent downslide, Harris believes Ottawa is ready to turn the page.
"You can just feel it," Harris said Thursday. "Its one of those things when you play quarterback for a long time. You can feel certain games when your guys are up for it and certain games where you need to heighten the intensity to help guys. You can feel it."
Meanwhile Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli feels the Tiger-Cats are reaping the rewards of hard work that got underway last season.
"We're feeling pretty confident, feeling pretty good right now," said Masoli. " It's all coming from experience, more repetitions and being able to execute in the games and we're just trying to keep it going."
With just three games left for each team, the upcoming series will have a huge impact on which side gets a bye into the CFL East final. Ottawa won the first meeting of the teams on July 28 by a score of 21-15, meaning a split of the series will give them the tiebreak over Hamilton if they finish with identical records.
"It wasn't our best game and I don't think it was Ottawa's best game either," Hamilton coach June Jones said of the earlier matchup. "I think they've gotten better. This is going to be one of those games that goes right down to the end, as a lot of them do. Ottawa's playing for a lot and we're playing for a lot."
The Redblacks lacked that kind of urgency last week, giving up 20 unanswered points to the Edmonton Eskimos in a 34-16 loss after holding a nine-point lead in the first half.
Ottawa is 2-4 in its last six games, and players acknowledge they need to respond.
"We have the capabilities of doing the things we need," said Ottawa receiver Greg Ellingson. "One thing we do a good job of is when we lose a game we see the corrections we need to make and come in with a different attitude in practice and can usually execute what we've been working on and bounce back."
The Redblacks have made some significant changes to its lineup, some by necessity.
American Josue Matias will make his first start of the season at right tackle in place of Jason Lauzon-Seguin.
This marks the first time since 2015 that the Redblacks will have two Americans on the O-line.
"He's a guy we've liked all along since he's been here," said Redblacks coach Rick Campbell. "It's just been a matter of fitting him in ratio wise and we're able to do it this week."
The 25-year-old Matias was released by Calgary in training camp and hasn't played since a pre-season game against Saskatchewan.
"I'm just trying to prepare for the situation," Matias said.
Ottawa will be without four of its defensive starters as defensive backs Antoine Pruneau and Randall Evans and linebackers Avery Williams and Kevin Brown are all injured.
In their place will be linebacker Chris Ackie, who gets his first start, defensive back Sherrod Baltimore, defensive tackle Mike Wakefield and defensive tackle Ettore Latanzio, who will play his first game of the season as he returns from a groin injury.
Both teams understand the significance of the game, but are trying to downplay its magnitude.
"It's a playoff feel with a playoff atmosphere, but a loss isn't the end of the world," said Ellingson. "I think it's which team wants to win the East more, which team is going to execute better, which team is going to take care of the ball better and who's going to come out more physical and who's going to force their will on the other team."
HAMILTON (8-7) AT OTTAWA (8-7)
THIRD TIME A CHARM — This marks the third time in four years the two teams will play an October home-and-home series. In 2015 Ottawa swept the two games to finish first, while in 2016 they split the series and Ottawa finished first and went on to win the Grey Cup.
DOUBLE DIGIT MADNESS — Hamilton has built a double-digit lead in each of their last seven games. The last time they accomplished that was in 1981 when they built a 10-plus point lead in eight straight games.
SURGING SINOPOLI — Ottawa WR Brad Sinopoli is 13 catches away from setting the single-season record for catches by a Canadian. Sinopoli goes into the game with 100 and will look to break Ben Cahoon's record of 112 with Montreal in 2003.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press