Make it 18 losses and counting for the Ticats in Montreal. After getting a week off to rest and prepare, the Ticats came out sluggish and out of sync in falling to the Als 17-13 in an ugly affair at Percival Molson Stadium. It was a pour performance all around, with few bright spots. The less said the better, but let’s dive into the good and bad of last night’s loss.
It is tough to find a lot of positives from last night’s ugly performance, but the team did do a couple of things well. For starters, we need to talk about that goal-line stand. Hamilton’s interior defensive line has been nearly unstoppable this season, with Ted Laurent leading the way. Laurent may be the best defensive tackle in the entire league and looks to be even more dominant than he was last season, when he was the East Division’s Most Outstanding Canadian. And this was not the first time the Ticats stuffed an opposing team on goal-to-go from the one, as they had a similar stop in Calgary in Week 1. Three opportunities from the one and the Als came away with zero points. In a league where a defense gives one yard, stopping the offense from picking it up on three consecutive plays is impressive every single time.
Montreal running back Tyrell Sutton entered the game as the league’s leading rusher. He will probably not the end the week as such. After averaging over 92 yards per game in his first three contests, the Ticats held Sutton to just two yards on six carries. Two yards on six carries. While the Als did find some success on the ground with quarterback Rakeem Cato, most of those were of the scrambling variety and not designed run plays. The Ticats defense forced the Als to abandon the run early, as the Ticats stopped Sutton for runs of -3, -2, -3, -2 on four of his six carries. Just amazing. Hamilton entered the game giving up just 75 yards on the ground per game, and bettered that by giving up just 55 against the Als. No matter what way you slice it, that is an impressive performance.
The offense was just bad, but seeing the team get some production out of the run game, even if it was just in short burst, was heartening. Ray Holley, who needed a good performance after the team parted ways with Nic Grigsby earlier in the week, had his best game of the season, picking up 47 yards on just six carries. He also contributed in the passing game, catching five passes for 35 yards and the team’s lone touchdown. Holley did not get many carries, so the team did not commit to the run so much as Holley made the most out of his opportunities. Hamilton’s offense is probably always going to be pass-heavy, but getting 82 total yards out of the backfield is something that will hopefully continue as the year progresses.
Ugh! There are so many things that we could talk about here, but I will narrow it down to the three biggies: penalties, Zach Collaros and the inability to cover Fred Stamps.
Firstly, the penalties. The Ticats were penalized 16 times for 112 yards, but even the yards do not tell the whole story. It was the 2014 Grey Cup all over as a block in the back negated a 110-yard kick return touchdown from all-world return man Brandon Banks. The call was ticky-tacky, but after what happened to this team on the biggest stage, you would think that this would be something we would not see again. Is “blocking in the back” going to be Hamilton’s answer to Saskatchewan’s “13 men on the field” call? The game started with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Ed Gainey and it was just a harbinger of things to come. Most of Hamilton’s penalties were drive-stalling, or drive-extending for Montreal, calls and many of them were of the undisciplined variety. Peter Dyakowski, a nine-year CFL veteran, was dinged five times for procedure. That is something that does not happen to first-yard players, let alone guys with nearly a decade of experience. Flags have been up across the CFL so far this season, but that is no excuse for Hamilton’s penalty woes in last night’s loss.
While the whole team came out flat following the bye, dropping their record to 2-2 under Kent Austin coming off a week’s rest, it needs to be pointed out that Zach Collaros just did not look good. The quarterbacks gets a ton of credit when the team wins, and the inverse of that is taking some heat when they lose. Blaming the QB is easy criticism, but sometimes it is apt. Collaros was terrible last night, going 27 of 42 for 296 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Collaros never looked comfortable, despite decent protection from the offensive line most of the game, had happy feet and made poor read after poor read. It was not a great showing for No. 4, but he has proven in the past that he rebound from a poor outing, so hopefully we all see a much better game played by Collaros in Week 5.
In previewing the game on the latest episode of Podskee Wee Wee (available to download on iTunes), I noted how Fred Stamps was a “Ticats killer,” wracking up big game after big game whenever he played the Ticats. After a slow start to the season — Stamps had just seven catches for 62 yards in the Als’ first three games — he exploded against the Ticats for 119 yards on seven catches. In one game, he doubled his catch total and nearly tripled his yardage total! While S.J. Green still managed to find the end zone, it was Fred Stamps who once again found a way to torch the Ticats.
Despite the poor play of the team overall for most of the night, the Ticats still managed to have a chance to win the game at the end, but a Terrence Toliver fumble in the final minute sealed the team’s fate.
Frankly, the less said about this game the better. It was ugly, and not just from Hamilton’s end. The Ticats did not deserve to win this game, but Montreal gets full credit for being more prepared and making enough plays to win this game and even their record at 2-2.
But the loss does sting because this was one of the team’s better chances to finally capture that elusive regular season win in Montreal. The curse of McGill still hangs over this team, but the team will have a chance to make sure this 18-game losing streak does not reach 19 in October.
After a loss this bad, you tend to see a lot of panic, but this was an early setback — and how many of those have the Ticats had over the years? — and an ugly loss, but not one that shows the sky is falling. We all know what this team is capable of, so now is not the time for mass hysteria.
The Ticats now have to wait until next Sunday before hitting the field again, finishing up the team’s season-opening, four-game road trip in Saskatchewan against the Roughriders. If the Ticats can manage to get a win in Regina, never an easy task, and up their record to 2-2 before heading to the friendly confines of Tim Hortons Field for the first time this season, this road trip will have been a success.