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Masoli gets to re-live Grey Cup disappointment in Redblacks' opener versus Bombers

Before starting anew, Jeremiah Masoli will have to re-live his Grey Cup disappointment. Masoli will make his 52nd career CFL start Friday night with a new team, the Ottawa Redblacks.
Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (8) throws the ball during first half of preseason CFL football action against the Toronto Argonauts in Ottawa on Friday, May 27, 2022. Before starting anew, Jeremiah Masoli will have to re-live his Grey Cup disappointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Before starting anew, Jeremiah Masoli will have to re-live his Grey Cup disappointment.

Masoli will make his 52nd career CFL start Friday night with a new team, the Ottawa Redblacks. The veteran quarterback went to the Canadian capital in February after being released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Masoli, 33, spent eight seasons with Hamilton, registering 27 regular-season victories as the starter. He was the East Division's outstanding player in 2018 and a member of three Ticats teams that reached the Grey Cup.

Unfortunately, all were losses, including the last two CFL title games to Winnipeg (2019, '21). The Bombers cemented their 33-25 overtime victory at Tim Hortons Field last December when Kyrie Wilson intercepted a Masoli pass. 

Masoli went into the contest late in the first half when starter Dane Evans suffered a neck injury. He guided Hamilton to a 22-10 lead in the fourth quarter but the Ticats needed Michael Domagala's 13-yard field goal with six seconds remaining to force overtime.

Masoli finished 20-of-25 passing for 185 yards with two TDs and an interception. He also had 35 yards rushing.

On Friday night, the Blue Bombers will unveil their Grey Cup banner.

The acquisition of Masoli was part of a busy off-season for Ottawa, which finished last in the East Division with a 3-11 record. Shawn Burke, who spent nearly 15 years in Hamilton's front office, was hired as general manager and he revamped the Redblacks roster as 17 of the club's 56 players (including those on the injured and suspended lists) competed for other CFL teams last season.

Running back William Powell also returned to Ottawa in the off-season but won't play Friday due to an Achilles injury.

While there's certainly a sense of optimism in Ottawa, the CFL schedule maker did the squad no favours. Not only are the Redblacks facing the defending champions but doing so at IG Field, where the Blue Bombers are 18-1 in their last 19 contests.

What's more, Winnipeg's roster features many of the principles who've been part of its two Grey Cup championships. Quarterback Zach Collaros, the CFL's outstanding player last season, returns under centre behind a veteran offensive line that features dominant tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick.

Overall, Winnipeg has six of the league's 22 players with 10-plus years of CFL experience.

The Bombers' offence, though, is minus veteran Canadian running back Andrew Harris (now with Toronto) and leading receiver Kenny Lawler (Edmonton).

The defence remains solidly anchored by defensive lineman Willie Jefferson and linebacker Adam Bighill, who've captured the CFL's top defensive player award in each of the last three years (Bighill in 2021 and 2018, Jefferson in 2019).

Pick: Winnipeg.

Montreal Alouettes versus Calgary Stampeders (Thursday night)

At Calgary, the Stampeders look to avoid last year's dismal 1-4 start and resume their winning ways at McMahon Stadium after going 3-4 there in 2021. Veteran Bo Levi Mitchell has battled injuries the last two years and had more interceptions (13) than TDs (10) in '21 but is a two-time Grey Cup champion and CFL MVP who has won 84 of 106 career CFL starts. Vernon Adams Jr. (17-10 record) starts for Montreal but William Stanback -- who ran for a league-high 1,176 yards last year -- was limited in practice this week with an ankle injury.

Pick: Calgary.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Saturday night)

At Regina, two teams that protected the ball well last year square off. Hamilton finished tied with Winnipeg for fewest turnovers (20) while Saskatchewan was tied with B.C. for third (23). Riders starter Cody Fajardo looks to improve his career record to 22-8 with a win, which would give him the seventh-best mark in league history after 30 starts. Hamilton's Dane Evans will start his 15th regular-season game and the 19th of his CFL career (12-6 overall record) but the Ticats are 2-11 in season openers since '08.

Pick: Saskatchewan.

Edmonton Elks versus B.C. Lions (Saturday night)

At Vancouver, Victoria native Nathan Rourke opens as the Lions' No. 1 quarterback, the first time since Gerry Dattilio with Calgary in 1983 that a Canadian began a campaign as the starter. Rourke started B.C.'s first game last year but was listed as the backup behind veteran Michael Reilly, who didn't start due to an elbow ailment. The Lions are 4-9 in season openers since '08. Edmonton head coach/GM Chris Jones has a 7-5 record versus B.C. and is 53-37 overall but the Elks enter the season with a league-high 16 first-year players.

Pick: B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press