Zack Evans has been with the Ottawa Redblacks since the beginning and on Sunday he saw the fruits of his team’s labour: a Grey Cup championship.
Three years ago, just weeks after winning a Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he was selected by the Redblacks in the CFL expansion draft. The Queen City native, who played with the Regina Thunder before being signed by the Riders, moved his family to Ottawa and got to work with his teammates building the league’s newest franchise.
After all that work, he says it’s special to have won the Grey Cup so soon.
“We knew coming into this it was going to be tough for the first year, but we kept grinding,” he said on the field after the big win. “We did amazing last year and we came up a little short, but we knew we had the right stuff in our locker room.”
The right stuff included Henry Burris, a 41-year-old veteran quarterback who threw for three touchdowns and more than 400 yards, four receivers who caught for between 85-96 yards and a defence that intercepted the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell, three times.
The Redblacks went into Sunday’s game the overwhelming underdogs. The Stampeders came off a season for the ages and a 15-2-1 record. Mitchell threw for 5,385 yards, 32 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. Many had written the Ottawa team off, but being written off just fueled the Redblacks’ fire to win.
“We did it to show them that we’re not just push overs, that we’re not going to just lay back and die,” Evan explained. “It was great motivation, they had a great team this year and obviously going into the Grey Cup they knew they had a great team and we just fought and fought and fought (for the win).”
It was a hold on to your hats kind of game for the Redblacks who went up early but saw the Stampeders surge back to force overtime. Evans held his breath as receiver Ernest Jackson juggled the ball in overtime, eventually grabbing onto it and scoring the game winner.
“It was a little scary, but I knew Ernie has some great hands, he didn’t have a drop all season, so I knew he’d get ‘er,” Evans said, adding watching the ball drop on the Stamps third down was surreal, but amazing.
As for how this championship compares to the one Evans won with the Roughriders?
“It’s just as nice as the first one … it’s special to my heart and I’m a champion once again.”
—With files from Jamie Nye