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Ticats host Redblacks, looking for their first home win following consecutive defeats

After an impressive CFL debut, Caleb Evans is experiencing the typical growing pains that go with being a rookie starting quarterback.

After an impressive CFL debut, Caleb Evans is experiencing the typical growing pains that go with being a rookie starting quarterback.

The six-foot-two, 210-pound Evans threw three TD strikes in leading the Ottawa Redblacks to a 34-24 home win over the Edmonton Elks in his first CFL start Sept. 28. But in the three contests since, Evans has thrown seven interceptions and just one touchdown pass and was benched in last week's 27-16 loss to the Montreal Alouettes.

Evans, 23, returns under centre Saturday when Ottawa (2-8) visits Hamilton (4-5). A win by the Tiger-Cats would be their first at home in three contests while the loss would be the Redblacks' fourth straight and eliminate them from playoff contention.

Following Ottawa's win over Edmonton, Evans threw three interceptions — with two being returned for TDs — in a 35-16 road loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Oct. 6. Evans was also intercepted three times last week versus Montreal.

"When you watch film, anytime you see a quarterback throw an interception that's something you take note of and want to try to recreate that yourself," said first-year Ticats linebacker Kameron Kelly. "But I feel like any position on the field, but quarterbacks more than anything, must have a short memory.

"We're going to have to try and do our part to execute our defence and try to give him some looks so hopefully he throws them our way."

It's been a miserable season for Ottawa. Its offence is ranked last in the CFL in offensive points (13.9 per game), offensive TDs (nine), net offensive yards (266.7) and passing yards (210.2).

Ottawa has also allowed 38 sacks (including 10 last week against Montreal) and committed 29 turnovers, both CFL highs. Opponents have scored 75 points off Redblacks;' miscues, also tops in the league.

But although Evans is a rookie, Kameron said Hamilton's defence — which is ranked second in fewest offensive points allowed (17.2 per game) — won't have any exotic coverages or schemes in store for Ottawa.

"We just have to try and make sure we execute and that everybody does their job," he said. "Regardless of what we call, every call is designed to work.

"If we call something exotic or something simple, as long as we just execute and focus on that aspect of the play then we'll be fine."

If Evans struggles again, backup Devlin Hodges could see his first CFL action. Hodges, who started six games for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, will dress for his first game with Ottawa.

Hamilton's kick-coverage teams won't have to face Devonte Dedmon, Ottawa's dangerous returner, as he went on the one-game injured list.

The contest is important for the Ticats, who're third in the East Division standings. But Hamilton has had difficulty winning at Tim Hortons Field of late.

The Ticats' 23-20 overtime loss to Montreal there Oct. 2 snapped their 11-game home win streak. Then Hamilton dropped a 24-23 decision to arch-rival Toronto on Oct. 11 before heading on a bye week.

In both contests, Hamilton held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. But the Ticats were outscored 20-3 in the fourth and overtime by Montreal, then 19-10 in the final quarter by Toronto.

"Listen, we don't sweep anything under the rug," Steinauer said. "We're always going to address the elephant in the room and that's in all three phases of our football team.

"But this isn't just an offensive thing, it's addressing it in all three phases, be it a penalty at the wrong time or not getting a stop when we need it. We feel like we address those challenges and then we move on."

Receiver Brandon Banks (ribs) will return to Hamilton's lineup, both on offence as well as on kick returns with Frankie Williams out. Banks, the CFL’s outstanding player in 2019, has missed four of the Ticats' past five games with the injury.

American Travis Vornkahl will replace the injured Jordan Murray as Hamilton's starting left tackle.

Veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will make a third straight start and fifth of the season for Hamilton but is still searching for his first win. The good news for the Ticats is Masoli was 24-of-33 passing for 361 yards and two TDs against Toronto and the unit rolled up 470 net yards.

And Steinauer said Hamilton has plenty of respect for Ottawa.

"Last time I checked, they don't have zero wins," he said. "Every week somebody is putting together a game plan to beat you and if you don't do things that are advantageous to winning . . . then you're going to lessen your chance of winning.

"I see a football team that plays hard on tape, I feel like they've been in more games than they're given credit for. Anybody that comes in here is going to pose a challenge. I'm more concerned about how we respond to those and are we raising our bar?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press