OTTAWA — The Ottawa Redblacks hope rest, not rust, will be a factor Sunday afternoon against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Redblacks (8-9-1) will host the Roughriders (10-8-0) in the East Division semifinal and much has been made of the fact Ottawa has played just once in the past month due to a wonky schedule that saw them have two bye weeks in the last three weeks of the season.
One of its final games included a 33-32 win over the Roughriders Oct. 13. Saskatchewan won the first meeting 18-17.
While the end of the season schedule was far from ideal, the Redblacks can only hope the time off will be beneficial in the end.
"When you get to the playoffs all that outside stuff kind of goes away because everyone is so focused on winning and they know it's do or die football now," said Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell. "I am hopeful that with the amount of rest our guys have had that our bodies are feeling good. It's pretty unique that we've only played one game in a month and hopefully we can use it to our advantage."
The rest was definitely an advantage as it allowed offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers and receiver Josh Stangby enough time to recover from injury and play Sunday.
Rogers hasn't played since Sept. 22, but was determined not to miss a second post-season. Last year the veteran lineman missed the last two months of the season, including Ottawa's Grey Cup victory, due to an ankle injury.
"I didn't want to go through the same thing this year because it was so frustrating to watch from the sidelines last year," Rogers said. "I feel good and I'm ready to go."
The Redblacks will still be without all-star receiver Brad Sinopoli and defensive back Jerrell Gavins, with both suffering season-ending injuries. But as the case has been much of the season the Redblacks anticipate someone else stepping up to the challenge.
Sherrod Baltimore, who will play his first playoff game, is just one defensive back who has helped fill the void left by Gavins and the 25-year-old says he has every intention of playing his best game yet.
"Anything that happens we can handle it, coach Campbell he gives us confidence," said Baltimore. "Right now we're really peaking, we still can be better every game, but we're really getting confident."
Quarterback Trevor Harris would much prefer talking about the Redblacks time off than the fact he will be making his first post-season start.
Harris seems almost annoyed when asked about taking his game to another level simply because it's the playoffs.
"It's another game, I'm not treating it any differently," Harris said. "I don't think the intensity is any different, like oh it's playoffs I'm going to try harder. If you're going to try harder in the playoffs are you trying hard to begin with?
"It's late in the season so the stakes are higher, I know that, but I'm just going to go out and play my game."
Too often this season the Redblacks have been its own worst enemy and can only hope to minimize mistakes against the Roughriders.
"We did shoot ourselves in the foot quite a bit and that's why we started 1-6," admitted Harris. "That's the do-or-die situation of the playoffs. If you shoot yourself in the foot now it's season over and you get to watch the playoffs instead of going and playing."
The Redblacks come into the playoffs as defending Grey Cup champions and strangely enough have the exact same record, 8-9-1, they had last year when they finished first in the East and had a bye to the division final, but few seem to give this year's team any chance of repeating.
Earlier in the week fullback Patrick Lavoie said no one was giving the Redblacks any respect or any chance of advancing.
"We didn't get any respect last year either," said Lavoie. "When we got to the Grey Cup no one gave us a chance to win and in the end we won."
Lavoie knows things won't be easy as they need to win the next two games to have a chance to advance to the Grey Cup which will be held at TD Place, but he believes in this group.
"Anything can happen," said Lavoie.
Notes: More than 1,000 tickets remain for Sunday's game as of Friday afternoon.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press