The scary part was just how effortless the whole thing looked.
After giving up a single point on the first play of the game Thursday night, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats proceeded to dismantle the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with a truly dominant a half of football. They scored on offence, defence and special teams – yes, all in the first 30 minutes – while building a 25 point lead and running away with the 52-26 win.
There wasn’t much by way of panic after the week one loss to Calgary – falling on a last-second 50-yard field to the defending champs is hardly an embarrassment – but the Ticats certainly corrected a number of the mistakes that cost them against the Stamps while taking out whatever frustrations they felt over that defeat on the hapless Bombers.
After settling for a field goal on their first trip to the red zone – scoring touchdowns has been an issue dating back to last season – head coach Kent Austin made the gutsy call to go for it on third down from the three-yard line and his team trailing 7-3. Quarterback Zach Collaros responded with a touchdown toss to Terrence Toliver that gave the Ticats the lead and a much-needed boost.
Collaros was at his surgical, methodical best on Thursday, looking very much like a man in control of himself and the offence. After using his scrambling ability incessantly in the early going last season, Collaros has matured into a lethal pocket passer who moves through his progressions, makes the right decision and delivers the ball with accuracy. Right now, he looks all but unstoppable.
Things in Bomberland, however, are not as rosy. The Bombers lost quarterback Drew Wily late in the opening quarter when he was swung around by linebacker Taylor Reed and collided head-to-head with defensive end Adrian Tracy. Willy was down for an extended period and left the game looking woozy, the latest CFL quarterback go down with what could be a time-consuming injury.
“I was just coming off the ball, being aggressive. We’re always taught everybody get to the ball and finish the tackle and that’s what I did,” Tracy said afterwards. “There was no malicious intent. I send my regards to him. You never want to see anybody get hurt.”
On the very next play, Brandon Banks returned a punt for a touchdown for the second straight week and in similar fashion: delectable elusiveness followed by blazing speed. In two minutes of game time, the Ticats tilted the game in their favour while at the same time seeming to shatter the fragile Bomber confidence.
With Willy down, former Ticats quarterback Brian Brohm took over but was no match for a blitzing Hamilton defence that brought pressure early, often and from all angles. Their performance – which was shaky early on but largely dominant when it mattered – was all the more impressive after the loss of starting Canadian corner Courtney Stephen, who missed the game after being injured late in the team’s final practice of the week.
His departure forced the Ticats to shuffle a number of bodies on defence but Emmanuel Davis produced a interception for a touchdown and both of the players inserted into line up as a result of Stephen’s injury, Mike Daly and Brandon Stewart, came up with interceptions as well.
The Ticats weren’t as dominant in the second half but didn’t need to be, the game well in hand. With all the quarterback injuries around the league – and the Ticats’ own substantial troubles in the health department – just getting home with a win and in relative health after a tough week-long road trip was plenty.
The team will now take their first of bye week of the 2015 campaign – the victory will make the respite that much easier to enjoy – before travelling to Montreal on July 16 for yet another road game. They play four straight away from home to start the season before heading to Tim Hortons Field on Aug. 3.
The 2014 Ticats needed a run of home games to right the ship and save a season on the brink. This team won’t. The wins won’t always come this easy but, if they play like this, come they will.