There would be no redemption, only more heartbreak.
After losing last year’s Grey Cup in agonizing fashion to the Calgary Stampeders, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats opened the 2015 campaign with a 24-23 loss Friday night as Rene Paredes hit a 50 yard field goal on the last play of the game.
It spoiled a strong effort from defensive back Johnny Sears who had two interceptions in his Hamilton debut, part of a defensive effort that produced five turnovers and a late goal line stand. Brandon Banks chipped in with a 67 yard punt return touchdown.
The Ticats had an opportunity to close out the game on both offence and defence in the final minutes but couldn’t pick up a crucial first down, then allowed Calgary to move 42 yards in 41 seconds to set up the winning field goal.
“It says we’re not good enough to win a football game,” head coach Kent Austin said. “There were way too many mistakes, too many penalties. We had opportunities to make plays: we didn’t, they did.”
Hamilton was penalized 15 times for 105 yards and several came at crucial moments. The offence was largely one-dimensional as they put up just 37 yards on the ground and though quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 281 yards on 27 of 38 passing, he threw a critical third quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown.
“It was just a stupid throw. It’s quarterbacking 101: never throw late to the flat like that,” Collaros said. “I’m not going to have a lot of fun watching it [on film] tomorrow.”
The Stampeders marched down the field on their opening possession, moving into Ticat territory with ease. But Sears, signed as a free agent in the off-season, intercepted a Bo Levi Mitchell pass and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
The Stamps responded by putting together a long drive and this one ended in a score when the Ticats took an offside penalty to keep the possession alive and Mitchell found Eric Rogers in the end zone on the very next play from 30 yards out.
Banks restored the lead with an electrifying 67 yard punt return for a touchdown, eluding defenders before turning on the jets. It was a nice bit of personal redemption for Banks, who had a similar, potentially game-winning return negated in the final moments of the Grey Cup.
The Stamps scored two on a safety after a bad snap from Ticat Aaron Crawford and a punt single while the Ticats picked up a field goal and a punt single of their own to make the score 18-10 at the half.
The teams traded big play interceptions in the third quarter. First, Hamilton’s Craig Butler picked off Mitchell in the end zone to negate a scoring drive. But it was Keon Raymond’s 97-yard pick six of a Collaros pass that allowed the Stamps to tie the game after Jon Cornish’s two-point convert. They entered the fourth tied at 18.
Collaros assembled another solid, eight-play drive but it stalled at the Stampeder 23 yard line and Hamilton settled for another Justin Medlock field goal.
Another punt single extended the lead to four.
Calgary receiver Jeff Fuller put an exclamation point on his stellar night – he finished with nine catches for 148 yards – with 48 yard highlight real grab that set up the Stamps deep in Ticat territory. Calgary moved it to the Hamilton one yard line but was stuffed on third down and the Ticats took over after the play was held up after video review.
The Stamps got a field goal with under three minutes to play to cut the margin to one. Hamilton generated two first downs but a Collaros to Bakari Grant hook up fell incomplete, stopping the clock with a 1:20 left. Medlock’s punt trickled into the end zone, giving Hamilton a single point but allowing Calgary to scrimmage from the 35 with 44 seconds left.
Mitchell took six plays to move Calgary to the 33 yard line with three seconds to go but an objectionable conduct penalty moved them back to the 43.
Paredes hit from 50 yards anyway, giving Calgary the win.
Friday’s loss had the drama of last November’s championship game but not the stakes. Peter Dyakowski says that doesn’t make it any easier.
“Every loss sucks and losing the Grey Cup loses an order of magnitude more,” he said. “We’ve got a championship-calibre team and there are no moral victories at this point.”