The stand-in cast almost rewrote the script, but in the end, the play looked the same as it so often has. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were right there in the final act, but couldn’t deliver the knockout line.
Hamilton kicker Lirim Hajrullahu’s 49-yard field goal attempt for the win went wide left as the clock struck zero, to give the Montreal Alouettes a 30-28 victory at Tim Hortons Field Saturday night.
It was the sixth loss for the Ticats this year in their seven games decided by 10 or fewer points.
The game meant nothing to the CFL East Division standings, but who knows what it will mean to the psyche of the Ticats who concluded the regular season with eight wins and 10 losses. That can only be measured next Sunday when the B.C. Lions come to town as yet another western cross-over participant in the Eastern semi-final.
“I wanted to make it to put the team into a good positive mood for the playoffs,” a disappointed Hajrullahu said after the game. “But it just didn’t feel right when it came off my foot.”
The Ticats were hoping for a little tailwind heading into the playoff but closed the regular season with three straight losses, and just two wins in their final seven games in their third straight losing season. They also dropped below .500 at home with their second consecutive loss at Tim Hortons Field, heading into next Sunday’s win-or-vacate-the-premises date with the Lions.
“I feel, watching the game, that we gave ourselves a chance to win, which we did, and just came up short,” said Hamilton head coach June Jones. “But if you go undefeated in November you win the Grey Cup. We’re still in the position we had wanted to be in. We’ve got a home playoff game, with a chance to go to Ottawa for the Eastern Final.”
The Ticats used a skeletal crew, resting a large number of veterans, and employed rookie Dane Evans all the way at quarterback in his first regular-season start in professional football. He completed 22 of his 37 passes for 315 yards, and two touchdown passes, plus a pair of interceptions, one of which deflected off his intended receiver.
Johnny Manziel made his return to Hamilton successfully but briefly, playing only the first quarter which Montreal (5-13) coach Mike Sherman had pre-ordained for him. He went 4-for-5 for 59 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Pipkin then came in for a couple of quarters and 15 passes, eight of which were caught, one for a touchdown. He also ran for a pair of short TDs.
Matt Shiltz finished up, going 3-for-5, and an interception by Courtney Stephen, the former starting safety. Stephen was making his first start this season for the Ticats after losing his job to Mike Daly, who was among the many Ticats not seeing action in this one, as they rested for the post-season.
Using wide receiver Terrell Sinkfield almost exclusively at kick and punt returner, the Ticats went National-heavy on offence, especially in the first half, employing only two American receivers, Marquay McDaniel and an impressive Bralon Addison, who was making just his fourth appearance of the season. They employed two or three Canadian receivers (Mike Jones, Justin Buren and Felix Faubert-Lussier), depending upon down and distance, and would usually have either one or two Canadian running backs, sometimes adding Sean Thomas Erlington to the backfield with starting tailback Mercer Timmis.
Veteran International tailback John White didn’t see field time until the third quarter but early in the fourth ripped off his longest run of the season at 36 yards and finished with 88 overall rushing yards in just nine carries.
Thomas Erlington rushed for 41 yards, while Jones caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, his fourth 100-plus-yardage game of the season. Addison also caught his first CFL touchdown pass, and six other Evans tosses for 103 total yards.
“It definitely builds confidence for me, but I’m just more excited to see the other guys who haven’t been playing in the offence come in and do well,” Jones said. “You look at Bralon, he looked great, he almost looked like Jalen (Saunders) out there.”
With the Ticats down a dozen points to open the fourth quarter, Evans drove them 83 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jones, and then engineered another long (87 yard drives) that stalled at the Montreal 13-yard-line with two-and-a-half minutes to go. June Jones opted for a field goal which meant that after Stephen made his interception deep in the Hamilton zone, the Cats still had a chance to win.
Evans took them another 58 yards, but Hajrullahu’s third attempt of the night (the other two were good), was clearly off the mark.
“I thought I did all right,” said Evans. “I made a couple of mistakes on things I don’t want to make mistakes on, things that going into the game I had a pretty good handle on. But there’s nothing like getting out there and actually doing it. But I thought as the game went on I didn’t make those same mistakes.”
June Jones said that his quarterback made some rookie miscues, pushing too hard and therefore throwing too hard early in the game but, in the end, “he gave us a chance to win.”
But they didn’t, which was a too-frequent ending to the story during this regular season.
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