Like Ra’s al Ghul using a Lazarus pit, the Ticats keep coming back to life when everyone counts them for dead.
After last week’s heartbreaking collapse to the Argos, the Ticats found the resolve to go into a tough environment and come out with an emphatic 30-13 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Ticats took the lead 1:35 into the game and never relinquished it. It was a dominant victory from start to finish and gave new life to the team’s playoff hopes.
The Ticats are actually good
Forget the 4-10 record, because this Ticats team is not the same one that lost eight of those 10 games. Hamilton is 4-2 since June Jones took over and they could easily be 6-0, with single-digit losses to the Riders and Argos the only blemishes on their record since before Labour Day. As much as I hate the old adage of “The season doesn’t start until Labour Day” if the Ticats complete this run by making the playoffs, you are going to hear it a lot. But regardless of how all this ends, the Ticats going into Winnipeg and beating, probably inarguably, the second-best team in the CFL tells me that this team is actually good. These aren’t flukes; they aren’t just beating hapless Eastern rivals. They are playing with the big boys and coming out on the victorious end. The Ticats, the 4-10 Ticats, are a darn good football team right now.
The drive that won the game
This one won’t go down in lore like the drive in the 2013 East Semi-Final, but the 14-play, 100-yard drive that Jeremiah Masoli engineered in the fourth quarter to salt this game away was a thing of beauty.
The Ticats held a nine-point lead before the drive and were backed up to their own 10-yard line, but the efficiently and effectively marched down the field, eating up over eight minutes and capping it with a touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli to Luke Tasker (followed up by a two-point convert from the same duo).
The drive had it all, from Shamawd Chambers’ effort making it a 3rd-and-Inches early on; to not one, but two, huge second-down conversions by none other than Mr. 2nd Down himself, Andy Fantuz; to Masoli using his feet to extend plays; to Alex Green busting a big one; and to Luke Tasker doing his Luke Tasker thing. It was one of the best drives from any team this year and it essentially ended the game and secured the Ticats the win.
Castillo goes down
The extent of the injury is not officially known, but it looks like the Ticats are going to be without the services of Sergio Castillo for the rest of the season as reports say he has a torn ACL.
It is a shame, too, because Casillo has been nothing short of amazing for this team all season, connecting on 29 of 34 field goals and entering the last third of the year as a legitimate candidate for the league’s top special teamer award. He has worked hard to become a reliable kicker, and I truly hope for a full and speedy recovery, and that he can make it back next year and resume his stellar play.
But a hat tip needs to go out to Felix Faubert-Lussier who, in a pinch, did a really great job of punting the ball. He didn’t get a ton of hang time, but considering what he was thrust in to, you can’t knock the job he did. He finished the game with an average of 55.5 yards per punt and a net average of 41. Not too shabby.
The hot-and-cold narrative surrounding Jeremiah Masoli will probably exist for his whole career — ask Kevin Glenn how easy it is to shirk that label — but he has started to become a more consistent player the more playing time he gets.
His game against the Bombers — 27 of 33 for 338 yards and two touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, no turnovers — was by far the best game he has played this season, and might be the best game he has played since the game against the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 5 of last year. Masoli was accurate, as evidenced by his 81.8 completion percentage, confident and smart with the football. When he is on his game, few can match him. If he keeps this up, he is going to earn himself a rather large raise this off-season.
Green proves it was no fluke
What does a guy do for an encore after a 140-yard debut performance? Well, he sits on the bench for a week, but now that Alex Green has shown the B.C. game wasn’t a one-off, I think fans will warm more to the C.J. Gable trade.
Green didn’t put up the boffo numbers he did in his debut, but 97 yards on 20 carries (yes, you read that right; the Ticats’ starting tailback had 20 carries) is not a bad second outing. Green showed the same flashes he did against B.C., but he also showed some marked improvement in pass blocking. I noticed a couple of times where he made the block that gave Masoli that extra half second he needed to make a play. Seeing C.J. Gable play elsewhere will still be tough, but watching Alex Green play will heal that wound a lot quicker.
After seeing limited time on offense while Kent Austin was head coach, Banks has exploded after June Jones took over on Labour Day. His 446 yards since Jones took over projects to over 1,300 over a full season. I don’t know if Banks would get there over 18 games, but he has become an honest threat in the passing game and has resurrected his career after his productivity on special team waned considerably. He had his second straight 100-yard receiving game and once again opened the scoring on a big play on the first drive. Brandon Banks is no longer a return man playing receiver, he is a receiver.
Beating the Bombers at their own game
One of the keys to beating Winnipeg is to beat them in the turnover battle, which is no easy feat when guys like Moe Leggett and T.J. Heath patrol that secondary. But the Ticats did just that, getting timely turnovers and protecting the football. Richard Leonard’s interception near the end of the first half was a major turning point in the game. The Bombers were driving and were at least assured of three points before the half, but Matt Nichols threw up a bit of a wobbler and Ryan Lankford failed to see the ball coming his way. It was as easy an interception as Leonard is going to get. The Ticats also forced two fumbles, recovering one, and had a number of near interceptions. The Ticats played the Bombers game and beat them at it. Thoroughly.
The quintessential CFL play
The quick kick by Jeremiah Masoli and the onside recovery by Brandon Banks was a genius move right out of former special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold’s playbook. The Ticats executed it to perfection and found the end zone later in the drive because of it. It was one of those “only in the CFL” moments and my colleague John Hodge put it best:
— Blue Bomber Talk (@BlueBomberTalk) October 7, 2017
Clock management still an issue
Maybe it is nitpicking, but the Ticats didn’t play a perfect game and their clock management issues, that have plagued them most of the season, sprung back up again. They took two time count penalties in the second quarter and used a time out midway through the first quarter. These things simply cannot happen, and they are happening with far too much regularity.
Last, but certainly not least, Ticats fans watched this game with a heavy heart as we lost one of our own this week in Brian Broom. If you spent any time on Twitter, you knew Brian. A relentlessly positive person, a fervent Ticats fan and one of the truly real good people I have ever had the fortune of interacting with, Brian passed unexpectedly earlier this week. This hit a lot of Ticats fans, myself included, very hard. I will share some stories of Brian on this week’s Podskee Wee Wee, but I also wanted to give him a shout out here. During the game, Ticats and CFL fans took to Twitter to celebrate Brian by eating one of his favourite foods: a butter tart and using the hashtag #AButterTartForBrian. It may have only been something little, but this was our way of paying tribute and saying goodbye to a great man. RIP Brian, you will be greatly missed.
The Redblacks’ victory over the Lions muddies the waters just a bit, but Hamilton’s playoff hopes still rest entirely in their hands.
If the Ticats in their final four games, including a win over the Redblacks in Ottawa’s final game, they will finish second in the East and host the East Semi-Final. It is that simple. The Ticats can conceivably lose one more, provided the Redblacks also lose this upcoming week when they visit the Saskatchewan Roughriders. So next week, Ticats fans will also be Riders fans.
And speaking of next week, the Ticats are going to be in tough as they host the 12-1-1 Calgary Stampeders. Calgary was on a bye this week, and the Stamps off a bye are nearly unbeatable. The Stamps haven’t lost following a bye in the regular season since a 22-16 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts in Week 2 of 2005 and have won 14 straight after having the previous week off.
There is also this pesky problem the Ticats have with beating the Stampeders. Hamilton has lost their last 11 games to the Stamps (12 if you include the 2014 Grey Cup) with the last Ticats victory over Calgary coming by way of a 55-36 pasting in the 2011 edition of Touchdown Atlantic. It is going to be a tall order for the Tabbies to knock off the Stamps, but it was a tall order for them to go into Investors Group Field and beat the Bombers, and they did just that.
This is a different Ticats team than the one the Stamps throttled 60-1 earlier this season, and if the Ticats can find a way to finally topple the mighty Stampeders people might start giving this team the respect they should have already earned over the last six weeks.