What we learned in Hamilton’s heart-pounding win over the Redblacks

Don’t look now, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have suddenly gotten themselves right back in the thick of the playoff race in the putrid East Division.

After jumping out to a 23-7 halftime lead, the Ticats hung on for a 26-22 win over the Ottawa Redblacks at TD Place on Saturday. It was a hard-fought win where the team led early and never relinquished the lead. It was easily the best this team has played in a game this season and built off a decent, though unspectacular, Labour Day performance.

With the win, the Ticats up their record to 2-8 and are now right back in the hunt for a playoff spot, sitting just two games back of the idle, second-place Toronto Argonauts. The Ticats also have a game in hand on both the Argos and Montreal Alouettes, and two games in hand on the Redblacks. Hamilton has a chance here and that is not something we would, or could, have said just two weeks ago.

The Ticats showed a resolve in this game that they hadn’t all season long. Ottawa chipped away at the lead, but the Ticats never panicked and made plays when they needed to. On paper, this was a tough game for the Ticats to win, coming in after playing Monday when Ottawa last played Thursday, but win they did and now all of a sudden the team has a pulse.

Do we dare believe?

I know the idea that the Ticats are very much back in the playoff hunt after starting 0-8 will only give more ammo to the one-division crowd, but the Ticats are very much back in the playoff hunt. They have not conceded the season series to any team in their division and just won two straight against division opponents. If they keep this up, they may just find themselves hosting a game at Tim Hortons Field in mid-November.

All gas, no breaks

C.J. Gable had his best game in a very long time, and hopefully his usage will continue to go up as the Ticats implement their new offense. The former USC Trojan picked up 102 total yards and two touchdowns on 14 touches (11 rushes, three receptions). Carrying the ball 11 times is not a lot, but it is for the Ticats and Gable made the most of his opportunities. If Gable continues to see the ball around 15-18 times, the Ticats are going to win a lot more games.

Line gave time

I think the Ticats may have found their offensive line. After a decent outing on Labour Day, the Ticats o-line continued to improve and gave Jeremiah Masoli plenty of time to make his reads, find his receivers and throw deep. The Redblacks registered just five quarterback pressures and one sack on Masoli, which given the beating Zach Collaros took in the first eight games, is a major improvement. Newcomers to the team Ryker Matthews, in just his second career start, and Tony Washington, in his second Ticats start at left tackle, have been stellar. We know the three interior linemen are pretty good, but now that the team has bookends we are seeing what this team can do offensively when the quarterback is given time.

L’homme Nikita

The Ticats have a nice, new Swiss army knife defender and his name is Nikita Whitlock. The former starting fullback for the NFL’s New York Giants came to the Ticats in August and has carved himself out a nice role on defense. His two sacks, including one on Ottawa’s final drive, will be what stands out, but don’t think Whitlock is just a one-dimensional player. He created pressure from both tackle and end, while also dropping back into coverage. An undersized player by NFL standards, Whitlock looks like the type of football player whose skill set is tailor made for the Canadian game.

Davon Coleman, QB killer

I want to start off by saying I hate when good players get hurt. Seeing Trevor Harris on the sideline with a sling on is not a good look, even if he is the opposition’s quarterback. The CFL is better when its best players are playing and Harris is one of the league’s brightest stars.

That said, Davon Coleman is kicking the ever-loving hell out of opposing quarterbacks this season. We have seen him lay licks on Harris, Ricky Ray and probably most notably, Mike Reilly. And he mostly does it within the rules (he has been flagged for roughing a few times this year), which matters. He is not a dirty player, but a physical one, and while taking players out of the game is never the goal, hitting them hard is and Coleman does that. He is becoming a wrecking ball in the middle for the Ticats and opposing quarterbacks need to watch out.

Secondary shows improvement

I have fawned over Richard Leonard all year, but now it looks like the rest of his secondary mates are starting to join him. Not a single Redblacks receiver went over the century mark, just the second time all season a team has failed to produce a 100-plus-yard receiver against the Ticats. Greg Ellingson, the league’s top receiver and a legitimate MOP candidate, was held to just 47 yards on three catches and was pretty much a non-factor in Saturday’s game. If the secondary finally becomes even league average, the Ticats defense could become a force in the back half of the season.

Masoli doesn’t have to be the magic man

Jeremiah Masoli played a lot better against Ottawa than he did against Toronto, and he was magnificent to open the game (his first incompletion came because he hit the goal posts), but he slowed a bit in the second half. This is not to say that Masoli was in any way bad — he was not — but he continued to show the same tendencies he has throughout his career. One play in particular that stands out is late in the game, with the Ticats nursing a four-point lead, Masoli opted to throw a deep out on second down when he should have tucked it and ran for the first down. Masoli is not adverse to running the ball, as we all know, and he had success doing so in this game, picking up 73 yards on seven carries, but in a crucial situation when running the ball would have been the prudent move, he tried to make the big play. It is that decision making that scares me with Masoli. But he has helped guide the Ticats to their first two wins of the season, so it is hard to get on his case too much.

Kicking matters

In a four-point game, we can look at the performances of the kickers and see that the Ticats had a huge edge in that department. Former Ticats kicker Brett Maher missed two field goals, while Hamilton’s Sergio Castillo, the man who replaced Maher, went four-for-four. The Redblacks left four points on the field due to Maher’s misses, while the Ticats left none. Not hard to see who won the kicking battle in this one, nor is it difficult to surmise that the Ticats made the right move going with Castillo.

Local kid makes a big play

When Justin Vaughn was drafted in the fifth round out of Fordham, many in Hamilton were thrilled. Vaughn is a local product, having gone to high school at Sir Allen McNab, and it is always nice to see local players play for their hometown team. Vaughn has played a lot more this season than anyone would have expected, and while he still has a lot of growing to do, he made one of the biggest plays in the game against the Redblacks. Clinging to a late lead, Vaughn came up with a huge sack on Ottawa’s penultimate drive, forcing Ottawa to punt with a little over three minutes remaining. It wasn’t a game-sealing play, but it was important nonetheless. It was also the first sack of his CFL career and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Looking ahead

Now the Ticats hope to take their two-game winning streak and stretch it into three when they host the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night at Tim Hortons Field. The Riders won the previous matchup between these two teams all the way back in Week 3 by a score of 37-20, and the Riders are winners of three of their last four, so this is going to be a tough test for the Ticats.

But history is on Hamilton’s side (for as much as that is worth) as Tim Hortons Field has been a house of horrors for the Riders. Saskatchewan has made three visits to the Ticats’ new home, and they have left with three defeats by scores of 28-3, 30-15 and 53-7. This Riders team is not those Riders teams — this one is actually playing some really good football — but as the Ticats have started to turn things around, perhaps some of that old Tim Hortons Field magic can appear.

In any event, if the Ticats find a way to beat the Riders and push their win streak to three, things are going to get super interesting not only in the Hammer, but in the entire East Division.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.
Josh Smith

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Josh Smith
About Josh Smith (297 Articles)
Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.

16 Comments on What we learned in Hamilton’s heart-pounding win over the Redblacks

  1. Peter Griffin // September 10, 2017 at 6:36 pm //

    Don’t disagree with any of your comments Josh. Masoli could have run rather than attempt a pass which didn’t get the 1st. down, but all in all he played a good game. He is a real warrior and keeps us fans on the edge of our seat – is he going to make a play or not make a play?? In fact, the whole team really looks like a professional football team now, where they certainly did not earlier this season. At this time we don’t know which QB will be in for the Riders, but I’m sure they will plan and prepare for both. Nice to see my team really starting to get on track.

    • Sea of Dead // September 10, 2017 at 7:59 pm //

      I recall a hit on Masoli in the small of his back near his hip that seemed to hurt him and may have tightened up late in the game. A possible explanation as to why he chose to pass rather than run on that play and risk a more severe injury.

  2. Dan Bombers // September 10, 2017 at 6:54 pm //

    Two more wins and you have a shot at the division!!
    Only in the cfl

  3. If you are going to cite a Hamilton product, you may wish to make sure you use the correct spelling of the high school that he attended?

  4. Masoli should have been starting along time ago . Looks like there could be a few teams interested in collaros trade him for some good players if possible. Sign Jones to a contract extension and let Masoli and Jones do what they do …..WIN…..

    • Sea of Dead // September 10, 2017 at 8:08 pm //

      Me thinks that it’s a bit early to make that call, just two wins after all by two teams that did not bring their ‘A’ game, but let’s hope the better team play continues and that the Cats contend for a playoff position. At least their watchable now and likely will continue to improve.

  5. I think the play of the offensive and defensive lines are the reason for success

  6. …and Glenn is injured.

  7. Coleman also took out Jennings in the home opener. About time we had someone on D who can put the fear of god into an opponent.

  8. I agree about the O line, and wonder a bit how Zack would perform with this unit? Also aware that Zack is a pocket passer, and never rolls out, only when FORCED out, and wondering if that was smart on Austin’s part, because it was still his gameplan. Hell, even Calvillo rolled out on occasion.

    Using Gable more at long last. Every good team in the CFL has a respectable running game, and even show two-back sets regularly.

    Nikita Whitlock is a low-centre-of-gravity, fire-hydrant painted – yellow & black wrecking machine. The D line’s deeper than we thought, and doesn’t live or die with Laurent.

    • Sea of Dead // September 11, 2017 at 10:35 am //

      Laurent has been a sleeping giant outside of one game this season and has only been a shadow of his former self ever since he signed that ridiculously high free agent contract prior to the 2016 season. He saves his best in front of his family when playing the Als in Montreal … so we may get one more decent game out of him if he comes back at all this season.

  9. Most commenters on 3dnation have been saying shore up the Oline and the secondary and this team is way better than their record. Also calling for more of a run game. Check, check and check.
    They have 8 games left to make a run. Fantuz and other injured starters coming back. Go Cats

  10. Prior to the Labour Day game I said it would be interesting if the 0-Line suddenly got better with Masoli at QB. I knew the O-Line would get better immediately. Five Transformers could not protect Collarus who took far too long to throw and refused to move at all. Forget the fact that when he did throw he was innaccurate. Please stop talking about Collarus. How good would Collarus be behind the present O-Line? He’d be awful!

  11. It’s amazing what can happen when the quarterback has time to execute the play.

    In this game and some of the last, I counted over 4 seconds that Jeremiah was provided by our Oline to get the ball to a receiver.

    I never stopped believing in C J Gable. And he’s showed over the last couple of games that he can affect the end results if you provide him with the opportunity. And, as we edge towards the fall, he will become even more important.

    Our secondary actually shut down the last two opposition offenses. They are looking better every game.

    If we aren’t sacking the quarterback, we are at least hurrying them. Tracy and company are providing major assistance to our secondary.

    Coleman and Whitlock will help this defense become a feared unit, and then when Ted gets back…..

    Our Special teams are effectively limiting the opponent’s returns. Now, if we can spring our return guy for some major yardage…

    When Maher left, I was one of those concerned about the abilities of Castillo. But, he has proven to be a solid, reliable kicker with a strong leg.

    This is more like the COMPLETE team effort that we need to get back into the win column…

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