In the aftermath, which is always warm and buttery when Labour Day has gone Hamilton’s way, it’s probably good for your long-term emotional stability to remember that the Tiger-Cats scored only 17 points on offence and the Toronto Argonauts had lost three of their last four.
But, as new head coach June Jones said even before being asked, “a win is a win.” Emphasis on the ‘a’, as in one. But you can’t get two until you get one. And you can’t get three until you get two etc. etc.
That, of course, is getting a way ahead of themselves. But maybe that’s excusable because the Ticats aren’t ahead of anybody else. Even with the 24-22 win over the Double Blue, Hamilton is still four points behind the second-worst team in the CFL, the Montreal Alouettes, and six points back of what is surely the last playoff spot available; second place in the east, currently held by those same Argos.
But it’s also important to remember that Monday’s was the kind of game the Ticats have been losing all summer: Periodic confusion in time and game management; enough time left for the other team to march down the field and tie or win the game; no points in the first quarter; an interception thrown on the third play from scrimmage; the opposing offence seeming to take over in the third and early fourth quarters; and the visiting team possessing the ball for 10 minutes longer than the home team.
But the difference between eight losses and this one win, was that the Ticats made some, as in enough, big plays.
Sergio Castillo hit the second longest field goal in team history – the margin of victory – and launched a 57-yard punt that gave Toronto no chance for a weird one-play comeback at the end; Jeremiah Masoli wasn’t brilliant, but the offensive line kept him clean, and he dropped one right into Speedy Banks’ hands at full gallop.
Banks, unlike a similar pass from Masoli in the previous game, held on for an electrifying touchdown.
All game Banks got really open, and was targeted a whopping 13 times, twice as many as in any other game in the past two years, and four more than his career high here.
And Luke Tasker plucked a pass out of his eyebrows to keep a touchdown drive going. He also drew another critical pass interference call as Hamilton scored an uncharacteristic 21 points in the second half.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback Richard Leonard made an important interception when Toronto was about to assume early control; defensive back Osagie Odiase stripped a ball that created Felix Faubert-Lussier’s special teams touchdown; and corner Cariel Brooks knocked down Ricky Ray’s second-down pass in the end zone to force the third down that became Lirim Hajrullahu’s game-losing missed field goal.
The Ticats have said all year that their losses have come down to seven or eight plays made or not made; but, for the most part, they were flattering themselves.
This time, they made a greater number of those plays, and probably made more in the secondary than they have all season. There, the increased aggressiveness was noticeable, before and after the two-hour lightning delay. They knocked balls down, forced Ray into mistakes, and closed quickly for the tackle when a pass was completed.
“I felt like we were playing real confident in the back end, ” said defensive halfback Emanuel Davis. “We’re just trying to dictate where the ball goes a little more, get in the receivers’ faces.”
That aggressiveness likely stemmed from a new coach, frustration with serial losing and pent-up antagonism after a bye week. And, you have to think, a sense of having nothing more to lose.
Now they’ve got to repeat it and more: nine times.
With the CFL’s porous East that’s possible, Jones suggested, if the team can get more discipline and continue on some kind of a roll.
“We knew if we could get this win, it might lead to three, four, five, more, ” he said afterward. “Maybe even six, eight, 10 more.”
He has to think that way. We have to think this way: the Ticats have one win in nine games. But that’s one more than a couple of days ago.
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