'Gades' front nine par for the course

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:33 PM ET

Joe Paopao's no golfer, but he's pretty much the Tiger Woods of CFL coaches when it comes to drawing analogies.

Such was the case again on a sunny summer Sunday at the midway point of the Renegades' schedule, which Paopao compared to being in the clubhouse at the turn, having a sandwich.

"The first nine we were par," he surmised. "We've got to come back out and get a couple of birdies to start us rolling again.

"We made a couple on the front. Now we've just got to go and play. We've got to concentrate on each hole, each game, set up our shot then try and make it. Right now, we're on the leaderboard, we're right up there. I'm excited about that, but I know we can play a lot better."

Likely not even his family members predicted the Renegades would equal their 2004 win total by the halfway point of the 2005 season. Especially when their first nine included two games with Edmonton, one in B.C., one against Montreal and two more against the Roughriders, who were projected to be contending for first place in the West Division.

But a funny thing happened after an embarrassing, 41-16 season-opening loss at Commonwealth Stadium in which offensive line problems left the Renegades in a gunfight with an air rifle.

Paopao did some tinkering with the the line, handed his baby -- the play-calling responsibilities -- to assistant coach Tommy Condell then watched Greg Marshall's system kick in on defence.

The Renegades started getting some breaks and some W's. The confidence grew as they won five of their next seven. It started with a thrilling, 39-36 overtime victory over the perennial powerhouse Alouettes. A week later in Vancouver, they lost 37-29 but hung around that game long enough to try a last- minute onside kick that could have led to another OT finish. They beat Calgary 33-18 back at Frank Clair Stadium. They lost again by just eight, 29-21 in Ottawa, to the Eskimos. Then they reeled off three straight victories: 21-16 in Regina, 28-12 in Hamilton and 22-17 back home over Saskatchewan. Friday's 38-17 loss in Winnipeg left them with a 5-4 record and tied in points with 5-3 Toronto atop the East Division standings.

Montreal is a victory back, at 4-4, while Hamilton's 0-8 start has the Renegades on course for their first playoff appearance, providing they can keep a better record than the fourth-place West Division team.

"We played three games, 13 days apart, back to back," said Paopao. "It wasn't an easy nine."

Paopao says the next six games leading up to the next bye week will be crucial. The stretch starts off with what could be considered a couple of tough par-5s, as the Renegades return to face the Als in Montreal Sept. 2 and are back home Sept. 8 against the currently unbeaten Lions.

Up after that will be the Blue Bombers, at Frank Clair on Sept. 16, then trips to Calgary (Sept. 22) and Toronto (Sept. 28) before returning to friendly confines for a home game against the Ticats.

Taking just three of those games -- a modest goal -- would give them eight victories and set them up nicely for a final stretch that consists of one game in Hamilton and back-to-back home games against Montreal and Toronto.

Ten wins should give the Renegades a decent shot at finishing first and earning home- field advantage in the Eastern final.

"That's our goal," said Paopao. "My expectations were open (at the start of the season) ... I expected us to play hard, outhustle and outhit our opponents, and to make some plays.

"We're going to take them one at a time, we're going to play within ourselves and we're going to see where that takes us."

INJURY UPDATE: It appears P Pat Fleming will have pin-inserting surgery today on his broken thumb. Paopao said he's "maybe questionable" for the Montreal game in two weeks, and that Fleming and DB Sean Weston (possibly missing 2-4 weeks with a high-ankle sprain) were the worst of his team's injuries.

OTTAWA WEST: The Blue Bombers continue to borrow from Ottawa's football history. Defensive co-ordinator Rod Rust has left the team indefinitely, citing a family medical reason. Replacing him in charge of linebackers is former Rough Rider assistant coach Urban Bowman, who comes out of retirement to join a staff that includes former Riders defensive line coach Jim Daley at the head, former Riders DT John Kropke as the D-line coach and former Renegades assistant Dave Easley as the defensive backs coach. The Bombers also have former Riders personnel man Brendan Taman as their GM.


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