MILTON: Ticats playing fun football could be dangerous for opponents

Two of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with the most seniority say they’ve never had as much fun playing football.

And watch out now, said centre Mike Filer, a seven-year Ticat and sixth-year receiver Luke Tasker.

“And in my experience, the seasons that it really felt like fun playing football, are the years that you really start getting dangerous to your opponents at the end of the season,” said Tasker, who had seven receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown in the Ticats’ 36-25 victory over the now-reeling Toronto Argonauts Saturday afternoon, for their third successive win and fourth in five games.

“It’s really hard to beat a team that is really enthused about making plays for their teammates and it seems that that’s where we’re heading.

“These last few weeks could have defined our season in a really poor way, but we made it work for us. We had three big wins here that have put us in a position to really take over this last portion of the season.”

The 6-5 Tiger-Cats moved over .500 for the first time since the third game of the season and revived the sense of “something’s happening here” that was so prevalent at that time, but was misplaced during an ensuing three-game losing streak. They’re technically in second place behind the Ottawa Redblacks who beat them earlier, but have the same record as the Redblacks, who lost in B.C. the previous evening. They play Ottawa twice in the final three games of the season.

The CFL East, which could have been bunched together like a club sandwich had the Argos won, is now cleaved into distinct halves with Ottawa and Toronto each up three games on Toronto and Montreal.

But the Als are showing a bit of promise. The injury-plagued and mistake-prone Argos are showing need.

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and receiver Brandon Banks tied volume-related franchise records in this game and have over a third of a season left to shatter them.

Masoli, with 18 completions on 25 attempts for four touchdowns and exactly zero picks, went over 300 yards (307) for the ninth time in 11 games, tying Henry Burris’s 2013 Ticat club record.

And Banks, who caught two touchdown passes for the second time in a week against the Argos, had six receptions for 153 yards, giving him 100-plus for the eighth time this year, matching the iconic Tony Champion’s feat in 1989.

We’ll remind younger readers that in the two years that Burris and Champion set their records, the Ticats went to the Grey Cup game.

Masoli also ran — sometimes planned sometimes as an emergency outlet — eight times for 51 very important yards. The Ticats had trouble opening big gaps for Alex Green but stuck with it 13 times for 60 yards. The tailback added another 44 yards on three catches. Mike Jones had two catches for 19 yards as Masoli targeted only four receivers.

Lirim Hajrullahu was 2-for-2 in field goals, splitting the uprights from 50 and 52 yards, making him perfect in four attempts from the 50-yard-line or farther. He also had a single on a kickoff. (But his short-kick after the Ticats’ first touchdown went out of bounds two yards short of the required 10).

The Argos’ McLeod Bethel-Thompson targeted seven different receivers (including Duron Carter twice unsuccessfully) for two touchdowns in his 27-for-42 (295 yards) afternoon but overall the Argos were overmatched. Armanti Edwards and SJ Green were solid with, respectively, 112 and 97 yards receiving and a touchdown each.

Although Toronto responded well to Hamilton strikes through the first 40 minutes or so, they were clearly outmatched over the past two weeks — Ballard Cup to Hamilton — as the Ticats are rolling and can really feel it.

The Calgary Stampeders, the league’s best team, visit Tim Hortons Field next Saturday in what everyone in the CFL, considers a Ticats’ litmus test. The eye test says that they’re somewhere very good, especially with Masoli garnering sky-high confidence from his teammates on both sides of the ball.

There was some immediate postgame concern — and there still may be — when head coach June Jones said Banks had been injured late.

“It’s kind of surprising we’ve been able to do what we’ve done with three starting receivers (Jalen Saunders, Chris Williams and, months ago, Shamawd Chambers) down with injury,” Jones said. Speedy pulled a groin tonight and so now we’re iffy again for next week. We’ll see what happens.”

Banks says confidently that what will happen is that he’ll be playing next weekend and that he was “being precautionary. I know we’ve got a lot of injuries to wide receivers, so I was just holding back.

“I’m all right.”

The Ticats don’t practice until Tuesday so, as Jones said, we’ll see what happens.

The Ticats led 7-6 and 15-13 at the first two quarter breaks and were up 25-19 heading into the fourth quarter, once their no-fly zone, but which has become their realm over the past six weeks or so.

When Bethel-Thompson hit Green for a 31-yard-touchdown with about two minutes left, providing at least an illusion of a possible comeback, it was the first point the Hamilton defence had surrendered in just over 45 minutes of fourth-quarter football.

Jones made a classy move, refusing to try to run the ball in from the Argo three-yard line to add further humiliation to the home side on three plays from scrimmage after Cariel Brooks’ 23-yard interception in the final few seconds.

With defensive tackle Ted Laurent called away Saturday morning for a family matter and defensive end Adrian Tracy a game-day scratch, the Tiger-Cats had to rethink their defensive line configuration. They brought Bobby Richardson — Delvin Breaux’s teammate with the New Orleans Saints — off the practice roster to play in the middle with Jason Neill and Nikita Whitlock, and used three Canadians-Justin Capicciotti, Jamaal Westerman and Connor McGough in the defensive end rotation. Last week, they dressed nine defensive linemen, this week six.

And while the offence has been gaining so much of the attention, Jerry Glanville’s defence has come up big on key plays time and time again.

“It showed tonight that we’re a good football team and took advantage of what was given us,” Filer said in the ultra-pumped Ticats locker-room. “At the same time, we made some mistakes we have to clean up.

“Really, I think the guys in this room are playing for each other. The camaraderie and the relationships in this locker-room are like, in years past, I’ve never experienced.

“We got guys on all sides of the ball hanging together and playing for each other.

“It’s a good atmosphere to be a part of … and it’s fun.”

Steve Milton

Steve Milton

Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
Steve Milton
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Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (194 Articles)
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.