OTTAWA — Ed Gainey will have a bigger chip on his shoulder Sunday when the Saskatchewan Roughriders face the Ottawa Redblacks in the East Division semifinal.
The Riders' cornerback was miffed this week when Calgary Stampeders linebacker Alex Singleton was named the West Division finalist for the CFL's outstanding defensive player award. Gainey was Saskatchewan's candidate for the honour after registering a league-high 10 interceptions while Singleton finished second overall in tackles with a 123, the most for a Canadian.
When the finalists were unveiled Thursday, Gainey tweeted, 'I guess tackles are better than turnovers.' On Saturday, Gainey made it a point to congratulate both Singleton and Montreal linebacker Kyries Hebert — the East Division finalist — but added the snub will provide him with more motivation Sunday.
"Yeah it does," Gainey said. "But I don't want to make it about me.
"I want to make it about my team and make sure everyone knows I'm going out there to play for my team and for what we have going on in the locker room."
That didn't stop Riders linebacker Henoc Muamba and veteran defensive back Jovon Johnson from chiming in on the subject.
"Tackles mean a lot," Muamba said.
"All tackles matter but 10 turnovers you can't deny," Johnson countered. "You can tackle a guy 20 yards down the field and it doesn't matter, it's a first down already."
Added Muamba: "Tackles matter too."
"He's a linebacker," a smiling Johnson said playfully.
Gainey was a key cog in a Saskatchewan defence that registered 40 takeways (13 fumbles, 19 interceptions, eight on downs), third-most in the CFL. The Riders were also plus-12 in the giveway-takeaway ratio, leaving them third overall.
Ottawa's offence had 34 turnovers (third-most in the CFL) and its giveway-takeaway ratio was minus-12.
"It's a telling stat in a game so we need to improve upon that for sure," Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said. "I know in the Hamilton game (41-36 win Oct. 27) we were minus-5 and still won.
"The good news is we can play football and find a way to win a game doing that but obviously that's not going to happen all the time. We need to make sure we take care of it on offence and on defence create momentum-changing plays."
Ottawa (8-9-1) finished second in the East Division while Saskatchewan (10-8) was fourth in the West Division and secured the crossover. The two teams split their season series 1-1, earning one-point road victories.
The Redblacks were 3-5-1 at TD Place and 3-6-1 versus West Division opponents. Saskatchewan sported a 5-4 road record and was 6-2 against its Eastern rivals.
But Ottawa, the defending Grey Cup champion, has won three straight and seven of its final 10 regular-season contests. Quarterback Trevor Harris faced Saskatchewan once this year — a 33-32 win Oct. 13 — and will make his first CFL playoff start Sunday.
Harris, who's scheduled to become a free agent this off-season, acknowledged Gainey's stellar campaign but said Ottawa's top priority will be trying to play error-free football.
"(Gainey) has had a great season . . . but he's not going to change how I approach the game," Harris said. "I'm just going to go out there and go through my reads and throw it to who's open . . . and if (Gainey) has a good day that means he's not going to get a lot of balls thrown his way.
"We're just trying to make sure we do everything we can to not shoot ourselves in the foot, to not have those drive-stopping penalties and those bad timely turnovers. If we can do that I think we'll be all right."
Tackle Sir Vincent Rogers, the CFL's top lineman in 2015, returns from the injured list for Ottawa. The Riders will have receiver Naaman Roosevelt (75 catches, 1,035 yards, eight TDs) back in their lineup.
But colourful receiver Duron Carter figures to be a key figure for the Riders. He had 11 catches for 231 yards in the loss to Ottawa and finished the year with 73 receptions for 1,043 yards and eight TDs.
Carter is among the CFL's best trash-talkers and said chatter from opposing defensive backs only motivates him more on the field. It seems silence is golden when it comes to defending against Carter.
"To tell you the truth, yes," he said. "At the end of the day they could stop me eight out of 12 times and I'm still going to have four catches for 100-something yards and two touchdowns so who really won?
"A lot of times I'm out there I'm non-chalant, I let the game come to me. But if I have to bring it to somebody . . . I make it my main goal. It's all fun and games out there and we're just playing a game."
Veteran Kevin Glenn will start for Saskatchewan, with Canadian Brandon Bridge also available off the bench. Glenn, 38, is completing his 15th CFL and will make his 12th career playoff start but one accomplishment missing from his football resume is a Grey Cup title.
"That's the reason why we play," he said. "I've been doing it for a while, had two opportunities and didn't make them so I'm going to try to make this third one the charm."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press