With the Hamilton Tiger-Cats smack in the middle of confirming that they are very much for real, Brandon — you can call him Speedy — Banks anticipated what was going to happen when he went up in the air.
But not what happened when he came down.
“I was definitely surprised that I didn’t get hit,” said Banks of his second touchdown in Saturday afternoon’s 36-25 victory over the now-reeling Toronto Argonauts earning the Ticats a share of first place in the CFL East.
Five minutes into the second half the Argos, desperate to recover from Monday’s Labour Day Classic loss, were trailing only 18-13. Then Jeremiah Masoli, standing at his 24-yard-line, spotted the CFL’s third-leading receiver swimming right into a school of four Argo defenders at midfield.
Masoli fired high and Banks, levitated with one leg bent, came down with the ball, found the hole and streaked untouched the rest of the original 78-yard distance to the end zone.
It was, and will continue to be, a WOW play.
“That’s gotta be my ball and nobody else’s,” Banks said. “So I went up and prepared for a hit and when I came down I didn’t get hit. So I just went off to the house.”
Simple as that. His fourth touchdown against the Argos in six days, and more than half of his game-high 153 receiving yards. With 135 yards and a pair of majors on Labour Day, he’s given the Ticats his two wealthiest games of the season at the most opportune time: as the weather cools into serious football and with fellow blazing receivers Jalen Saunders and Chris Williams out for the season.
That play helped Banks and Masoli each tie volume-related franchise records, with over a third of a season left.
Banks has 100 or more receiving yards in eight games, matching the 1989 feat of the iconic Tony Champion.
Masoli, with 18 completions in 25 attempts for four touchdowns and, for just the second time this season, zero picks, went over 300 yards (307) for the ninth time this year, tying Henry Burris’s 2013 Ticat club record.
“I can’t say enough about (Banks),” Masoli said later. “He plays outside of his body…plays like he’s 6-4.”
We’ll remind everyone that Banks is nine inches shy of that, and we’ll also remind the historically-challenged that in the seasons Burris and Champion established those club records, the Tiger-Cats also advanced to the Grey Cup game. They also lost to Saskatchewan both times but, hey, November is still football light-years away.
Coach June Jones said after the game that Banks had pulled his groin late but the receiver countered that he was OK and that tightness in his hip and groin prompted him to “hold back,” especially with Williams and Saunders out.
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”. They’re technically in second place behind the Redblacks who beat them earlier but have the same record as the Redblacks, who lost in B.C. Friday night. They play Ottawa twice in the final three games of the season.
The CFL East has cleaved into distinct halves with Ottawa and Toronto each up three games on Toronto and Montreal.
Hamilton has already won the season’s series — and the accompanying Ballard Cup —against Toronto, and with a massive August win in Montreal and just one game with the Als remaining, has that season’s series in their grasp, too.
While the Ticats were in control throughout, and won their third straight and fourth in five games, it wasn’t always easy at BMO Field. But the defence came up big when needed and limited multi-purpose back James Wilder, Jr., the fulcrum of the Argo attack, to just 76 yards overland and just one short reception out of the backfield. McLeod Bethel-Thompson did have 299 yards in passing, targeting seven different receivers.
The defence was down to six defensive linemen — three National ends, three International tackles — after dressing nine on Labour Day, because Ted Laurent was away for the birth of his son, Xavier. That triggered some D-line adjustment dominoes.
The defence didn’t allow any Toronto damage after a Banks fumble in the second quarter and forced a turnover on downs early in the second half. By the time SJ Green caught a late Bethel-Thompson touchdown pass, Hamilton hadn’t surrendered a point in a cumulative 44 minutes and 23 seconds of fourth-quarter play.
The Ticats struggled to establish Alex Green on the ground but didn’t abandon the attempt, and Masoli compensated with his own runs (51 yards).
Lirim Hajrullahu continued his long-yardage success with field goals from 50 and 52 yards. Luke Tasker had 91 yards, and two touchdowns off seven catches, including all four of Masoli’s completions on the first touchdown drive.
“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,” Tasker told The Spectator.
A much sterner test comes in the Hall of Fame Game Saturday afternoon when the Calgary Stampeders bring their CFL-best record, and the sting of a loss to Edmonton, into Tim Hortons Field.
“I don’t think I’ve ever beaten Calgary so I’m going out there with a chip on my shoulder,” said Banks.
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