There are some places — cyberspace, primarily — where Jeremiah Masoli may not be getting the respect he deserves, but there’s one location where he’s appreciated without reservation, footnotes or asterisks.
And it’s the only spot he cares about: his own locker-room.
“The guy can make a play. He’s going to get the job done,” Hamilton Tiger-Cat Brandon Revenberg says of the quarterback he and his strapping friends on the offensive line are charged with protecting.
“If no one’s open, he’s going to run to make that play. We’re always confident with him back there.” And you hear that same sentiment up and down the roster.
Partly because he is uncomfortable in the off-field spotlight and partly because he was a backup during most of his first 4 1/2 Hamilton seasons — he had dropped as low as fourth string three years ago — some local fans still have trouble regarding Masoli as what he has clearly become: a bona fide CFL starter, and one of the top three quarterbacks in the league.
He engineers long drives from the worst starting field position in the league; buys time with his feet for a receiving corps which has lost 40 per cent of its planned starters; sprints for lengthy gains; is on pace to shatter the club passing record by 500 yards; and he’s starting to show signs of limiting his one glaring shortcoming: a propensity for picks.
Just last week, June Jones postulated that Masoli’s ill-timed interceptions — eight through the first seven games, but only three in the past four — are something his team would live with because they’re the flip side of the extend-the-play coin. The cost of doing completion business.
Against those three interceptions in four games, he’s tossed for 10 touchdowns, although seven of those were against the Argos. But a win is a win, and two wins are two wins, especially inside the division and especially when they disable your geographic rival. Saturday in Toronto, Masoli recorded his ninth 300-yard game of the season to match Hank Burris for the franchise record, leaving him within reach of Doug Flutie’s all-time CFL single-season mark of 14, set 27 years ago.
Masoli’s voluminous real estate acquisitions were dismissed by some critics because they weren’t accompanied by enough wins or fourth-quarter production, but that balance has changed over the past five or six weeks.
As it is with the Hamilton defence, a cause-and-effect is emerging. The constant erosion is wearing the opposition down, making them more vulnerable as the game deepens.
Masoli is finding Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker for heavy profit even though defences know that’s where his investment is probably going to go. When they’re locked up he targets Mike Jones or running back Alex Green, and you suspect Terrence Toliver must get his share sometime soon.
“Soli’s a guy who understands his role and goes out there to do it the best he can,” Tasker says. “He’s a vocal leader, not afraid to speak up, and he’s a leader by example, of course.”
Masoli is only three yards shy of Mike Reilly’s league-leading 328.58 passing yards per game and is a full 20 yards up on third-place Bo Levi Mitchell. Both, however, have significantly more (10 and nine respectively) touchdown passes than Masoli’s 16 and both have won Grey Cups.
But Masoli, 12-9 since Jones elevated him to No. 1, has been afforded only two post-season starts. In 2015, he beat the Argos then worked the Ticats into position to win the Eastern final in Ottawa before that last-second traffic accident in the Hamilton secondary.
Two-thirds of the CFL’s Big Three will be in the same place at the same time on Saturday afternoon when Calgary comes into Tim Hortons Field for the annual Hall of Fame Game.
Mitchell is coming off a massive 491-yard effort in the Stampeders’ entertaining loss in Edmonton. If the Ticats can win this one against an angry Stampeders team, they’ll have this town behind them like it was mid-2015.
Masoli outplayed Mitchell on opening day, despite being picked off on the way to a potential game-winning touchdown, then outplayed Reilly later that week in Edmonton. Reilly had a huge game here in August but Masoli found his stroke late to power the Ticat victory, initiating their current three-game win streak.
“Jeremiah is a winner,” Jones restated Saturday. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Tasker does: “He’s trusted by his teammates, I can promise you that. We know he’s the guy.”
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