Luke Tasker has his perfect Friday night all planned out.
If everything goes as planned, the veteran Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver will win a football game with 43 of his closest friends, shower, put on his boots, then head to a local establishment for some celebratory libations.
But should the Ticats lose to the Calgary Stampeders, he’ll likely forego the post-game revelry and instead spend the rest of the evening nervously watching the Ottawa Redblacks take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders with his team’s playoff future hanging in the balance.
“I don’t want to watch it and I hope that I don’t have to,” Tasker said. “But if our fate hangs on it…”
The Ticats still control their own post-season destiny: if they win their final four games, they’re in. But a loss to Calgary on Friday and a win by Ottawa in Regina later that same evening and Hamilton is out of playoff contention and their final three games will be of the glorified exhibition variety.
While the Ticats are certainly playing better football since their 0-8 start – they are now 4-2 since June Jones took over as head coach – beating Calgary is a tall order. The Stamps are 12-1-1, have won 10 straight and are 15-0 coming off a bye (which they are doing this week) dating back to 2005.
Want some more? The Ticats haven’t beaten the Stampeders since the Touchdown Atlantic game in 2011 and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has never lost to Hamilton. Ever.
Oh, and the last time these two teams played on July 29, Calgary won 60-1 – though that result, interestingly enough, doesn’t appear to be part of Hamilton’s current psychology make up.
“I honestly don’t think so. I don’t even think Calgary would hang their hat on the fact that they beat us 60-1,” Tasker said. “It’s just so clear that we’re different now.”
Jones is the biggest factor in that transition, a calming interest with a long history in the game. He even has a connection to Mitchell, whom he recruited out of high school to play at Hawaii and then SMU where Jones was head coach.
“I’m really proud of him. I’ve been a big fan of his since forever,” said Jones, who texted with Mitchell this week. “He’s going to make some plays, there’s a reason that they’re 12-1 and he’s a large of part of it.”
After his team’s convincing road win over Winnipeg last week, Jones has elected to go with much the same line up against Calgary making just a single change: newcomer Kenny Allen will handle the kicking duties in place of the injured Sergio Castillo.
Allen has a booming leg – he was trying to make it the NFL as a punter before signing with Hamilton on Monday – and is listed as 6-foot-3, 223 pounds. That’s led Jones to create a new category beyond the usual “relatively normal” and “decidedly quirky” that kickers usually fall into.
“He seems like an athlete kicker,” Jones said. “He looks like a tight end or a defensive end.”
Should the Ticats find a way to win Friday, Allen – who was lamenting his lack of friends earlier this week – might even get himself invited out for one of those celebratory beverages.
“Some of the best memories when you’re a professional football player is winning games with your teammates. There’s nothing like it and we missed out on a lot of that early on,” Tasker said. “I think we have the feeling that we can win games right now.”
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