'Gades' biggest one yet

Renegades coach Joe Paopao talks to his team during practice earlier this week at Frank Clair...

Renegades coach Joe Paopao talks to his team during practice earlier this week at Frank Clair Stadium in preparation for tonight's CFL East showdown against the Alouettes in Montreal. (Ottawa Sun/Sean Kilpatrick)

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:45 AM ET

MONTREAL -- That is, the No. 1 under the Biggest Game in Franchise History file.

"To date, yeah, I'd say that," Renegades coach Joe Paopao -- whose team was declared a 2005 pushover in a pre-season copy of the Montreal Gazette -- said of tonight's showdown with the Alouettes. "That tag goes with a lot of our games as we continue to move forward."

Victory would move the surprising Renegades further forward of the Als in the East Division, as both officially kick off the second half of the schedule before what's expected to be the 60th consecutive sellout at Molson Percival Stadium.

Ottawa (5-4) would saddle up to the first-place Toronto Argos (6-3), but just as importantly, shimmy four points in front of the Alouettes.

Combined with what has become a tone-setting (for both teams) 39-36 overtime win at Frank Clair Stadium on Canada Day, it would also give the Renegades the season tiebreaker with the Als, who would then need to make up five points to move past the "free space" for home-turf advantage in any playoff matchup.

The Alouettes, who have dropped two straight games, now have the dishonour of being the first Don Matthews-coached team to slide below .500 since the 1999 Eskimos.

"This is just Game 10 for me, the first game of the second half of the season," said Matthews, the winningest coach in CFL history. "The second half will determine playoff positions for everybody in the East. We need to take care of our business ... that's my message to the kids: Let's win the second half, see how we are, then go win the Grey Cup."

The Renegades would like to establish themselves as contenders for that cherished mug as well, but to do so they'll have to play a lot more like they did in Games 2-8 than they did in Weeks 1 and 9. Take away their first game of the season and their most recent and the Renegades won five of seven while racking up 193 points and allowing 165.

WHIPPED BY WINNIPEG

A 38-17 spanking by the Blue Bombers on Aug. 19 marked Ottawa's last outing before the bye week, however, and the sting lingers.

"We played well enough in the first eight games to put ourselves in position to be 6-3 entering the break, tied for first place. That was our game and it was very attainable," said running back Josh Ranek, whose team failed to score a touchdown in four deep zone penetrations during the second quarter against Winnipeg. "The great thing about the season is that it was only Game 9, and we have nine more games to rectify that."

Ranek leads the CFL in yards from scrimmage with 995, but, oddly enough, has yet to score a rushing TD this season. That has something to do with the fact that quarterback Kerry Joseph has six of them, including a pair of end-zone visits in the Week 2 victory over the Als, which saw the Renegades rally from a 33-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.

Montreal linebacker Tim Strickland mentioned that loss as the stumbling point when asked about his team's fall in rankings. The Als, who have since strayed from employment of their traditional use of a high-pressure defence, have now allowed 275 points this season. Only Winnipeg (292) and Hamilton (300) have given up more, and the Bombers have played one extra game.

At the same time, Ranek says the comeback was a springboard for where the Renegades are now.

"To look back on it now, it was a big turning point for us," said Ranek, whose 30-yard OT run set up Matt Kellett's winning field goal that night. "It more or less showed the rest of the league they've got to play us for a full 60 minutes, that we're not going to lay down. Because it was against our biggest rival, it was that much sweeter."

Another tonight would move the Renegades closer to the "Bingo" they seek.


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