Jeremiah Masoli rewards the Ticats’ faith with an all-star season

By Dan Ralph

It’s been a breakout season for Jeremiah Masoli.

In his first full campaign as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ starter, Masoli had a league-high 12 300-yard passing games, was second overall in passing yards (5,209) and rushing among quarterbacks (473 yards) as well as third in TD strikes (28). And on Wednesday, the 30-year-old Californian was named an East Division all-star for the first time in his six-year CFL career.

“I’m definitely blessed to be in this position to be able to play,” Masoli said. “It’s been a long time since (head coach) June Jones made me the starter last year.

“(I) just appreciate the opportunity and all the things I’m able to do out there with the great talent I’m surrounded by. It’s just a nod to a great team and the scheme and the coaches and players we’ve got.”

Jones became Hamilton’s interim head coach following last season’s 0-8 start. His first decision was to promote Masoli to the No. 1 job ahead of then incumbent Zach Collaros.

Masoli justified Jones’ faith by completing 249-of-391 passes (63.4 per cent) for 3,177 yards with 15 TDs and five interceptions in 2017. More importantly, he led Hamilton to a 6-4 record in its final 10 regular-season games.

At season’s end, the Ticats made Jones their full-time head coach and signed Masoli to a two-year contract extension.

Hamilton (8-10) finished second in the East Division this year behind the Ottawa Redblacks (11-7). After missing the CFL playoffs last year, the Ticats will host the B.C. Lions in the conference semifinal Sunday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field albeit riding a three-game losing streak.

Masoli’s on-field success came with an ever-changing receiving corps as injuries have left the Ticats without the likes of Canadian Shamawd Chambers and Americans Chris Williams, Jalen Saunders, Terrence Toliver and Brandon Banks.

“That’s a testimony to the O-line giving him consistency there,” Jones said. “And the ability to run the ball too has been key to the passing game.”

Hamilton and B.C. split the season series 1-1, each winning at home. The Lions earned a 35-32 victory at B.C. Place Stadium on Sept. 22 but the Ticats returned the favour the following weekend 40-10 at Tim Hortons Field.

The five-foot-10, 228-pound Masoli has played well against B.C., completing 37-of-51 passes (72.5 per cent) for 500 yards and five TDs with no interceptions over the two contests. He threw for 311 yards in the opening loss and only had 189 yards in the rematch but with three TD strikes.

Masoli donned a knee brace at Wednesday’s practice but removed it before the session was complete. However, Masoli said he wore it simply for precautionary reasons.

“I’m good,” he said. “It’s just the wear and tear of the season.

“I had it banged up a little bit throughout the season, back-to-back-to-back games landing on it a couple of times. If I had to play last week I would’ve played but obviously we want to be smart about it so that was it.”

Masoli didn’t play in Hamilton’s regular-season finale, a 30-28 home loss to the Montreal Alouettes, last weekend. That’s because the Ticats had already clinched second spot and Jones opted to rest the majority of his starters.

But on Sunday, both the Ticats and Lions will have to deal with cold, windy conditions,. The early forecast for the East semifinal calls for a high of 2 C with estimated 20 kilometre-an-hour winds.

That’s bad news not only for the two offences but kickers Lirim Hajrullahu of Hamilton and Ty Long of B.C.

Masoli said high winds can force a player to tailor his game somewhat for the conditions. However, he adds the key for a quarterback is to throw a tight spiral so the football can cut through the wind.

“You’ve got to make sure you finish on top of your balls and make sure you’re getting spirals,” he said. “If you’ve got spirals there shouldn’t be any problems.

“But there definitely were some times even in the Ottawa game (30-13 home loss to Redblacks on Oct. 27) where we had some spirals on the ball but it was still moving a little bit just because of the wind but it is what it is.

“Now is the time for us to take over. Obviously I got a lot of experience under my belt this year . . . but we’ve still got our work cut out for us. We’re still focused on getting better and seeing what else we can work on day to day.”

– CP

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